I have a confession to make.
Ahem. My name is Beth Revis, and I was a teenage writer.
I know. Not a big deal, right? You’re probably a teenage writer, too. And if you’re signed up for NaNoWriMo, you’re probably just as serious about writing as I was.
Perhaps I should back up. Ahem. My name is Beth Revis, and I was a cowardly teenage writer.
I wouldn’t have called myself a coward then, of course. I thought I was rather brave, to stay up late at night, writing stories and learning about publishing and chasing my dreams. And yes, there is a certain courage involved in actively pursuing your dreams (which means, merely by signing up for this event, you’re already on that path of bravery).
But in the way I actually wrote? I was a coward. My first novels, the ones I wrote during my teen years, were terrible. And I know this because I wrote them in a chicken-hearted, yellow-bellied, gutless sort of way.
How was I a coward? Simple. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t think I was old enough, experienced enough, talented enough—good enough—to write. So I tried to write like other people. I tried to be a Proper Writer. I looked up how other writers—Proper Writers—wrote. They had schedules, outlines, Post-It notes, and colored pens. I never liked writing on a schedule, with an outline, using color-coded systems and what-not… But I did it anyway, because that’s what Proper Writers did.
I was so worried about being a Proper Writer that I forgot to be me—and so my writing was nothing more than thinly veiled knock-offs of other writers. I was a coward because I didn’t believe in myself enough to write me.
What I didn’t believe then was that there is no right (or wrong) way to write. I thought that to be a Proper Writer you had to do certain things. I forced my stories into formulas because other authors had used that formula. I forced myself to use outlines because other authors said they wrote with outlines. I forced myself to write to a schedule because other authors said they wrote on a schedule.
And I was miserable.
When I finally got tired of my own fear that what I wanted to do meant I wasn’t a Proper Writer and just did things my own way, I was so much happier. Now I write the kind of stories that I want to write, and I never use outlines, and I don’t bother with schedules at all.
When I wrote Across the Universe, I was afraid for most of the time. Science fiction wasn’t popular—I feared that the novel would never sell. I used a style of writing—first-person present with alternating points of view—that editors had actively told me not to use. I made stuff up as I went—not only the story, but also the style (I had extraordinarily short chapters and lots of white space). In short, writingAcross the Universe terrified me.
And that was the book that sold. It was the book that hit the New York Times bestseller list. It was the book that got picked up in over 20 countries.
And here’s what I learned from that:
There is no Proper Writer. There’s just you, writing, and that is more than enough.
Ambrose Redmoon said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” When I wrote Across the Universe, I was afraid of a lot of things. I was afraid it wouldn’t sell. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough to tell this story. I was afraid that I would never be a real author. But I wrote it anyway—not because I wasn’t afraid, but because it was more important to me to tell the sort of story I wanted to tell than to keep myself locked up in a box labeled “Proper Writer.”
If there’s one thing I can tell you do as you set out on this writing journey it is simply this:
Learn more about Beth on the 2011 Pep Talkers page.