On the Importance of Living

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Regrets: I have a few…

But over the past few years, I’ve come to realize what one of them is not:

All the time I spent living.

Let me back up:

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. (I’m trying to cut back.)

There are pros to this, namely being part of a writerly community and feeling less alone, as well as learning more about other people’s processes, and learning more about the publishing industry as a whole.

Then there are the downsides. Besides the obvious time-suck, the big one is COMPARISON. Look this person has a book deal–and I don’t! Look, this person writes 10K words a day–and I don’t! Look, this person is a published author at 22–and I’m not!

Etcetera.

I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I’d discovered my desire to become a writer sooner. I was twenty-five when I started my first novel–older than some people publishing today (especially in YA.) And I only dabbled, at first. It wasn’t until three years ago that I got serious about setting writing goals for myself, and not until last year that I committed to actually keeping them.

Why? Because given the choice between writing and going out for a drink, I always, always chose the latter. Was it because I wasn’t serious enough? Because I was lazy? Because I was afraid?

I think it was, in part, a combination of all those things. But it was also this: I didn’t want writing to replace living.

I’m not sure I ever thought about it in these exact terms, but I knew that in order to write accurately about life, I needed to live it.

There is this writer I’ve followed on Twitter for some time now. She is constantly posting her word counts, her strategies, her goals. I have been envious of this girl for some time. She’s incredibly young, works incredibly hard, and actually got a publishing deal before she finished college. When people ask her how she does it, she responds that she just writes all the time.

I was excited to read her contemporary book when it came out. So when the Goodreads preview was released, I eagerly went over to read it.

And I was struck by one big thing: the characters in her story didn’t seem all that real.

The writing was good, sure. The descriptions were nice. The arc of the story seemed compelling. But the dialogue, and the way the characters reacted to each other — they were acting like characters in a book. Not people in real life. In short, it read like a book written by a person who’d read a lot — but not like one who’d lived a lot.

So it got me wondering about this girl. I wonder if, in between her mega-achievements of graduating college with a publishing deal already under her belt, she ever got the chance to go out and live a bit. And college is made for social interactions. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today without mine.

This is not to put down any one writer, or young writers at all, hence my being super vague about this person. It’s just to say that it got me thinking about my own writing, and also, my own life. About my college years, when I spent no time at all writing, but every moment of every day living. About my early twenties, when I was too busy figuring other stuff about myself out to figure out that I needed to become an author, too. About my later twenties, where I wrote, but I also stayed out all night, made some ill-advised decisions, broke some hearts.

All that time I wasn’t writing? I was living. I was getting fodder for my writing.

Can you strike a balance? Of course! I do that now. But I have to admit that most of the real-life stuff that goes into my novels comes from my teens and twenties, because that’s when all the high highs and low lows happened. It’s when I made the most mistakes, dated the most inappropriate people, made the most friends, cried the most times. Now I’m married, for the most part make good choices for myself, and a night out means chatting with friends over a few drinks, not making a drunken 3 AM decision to squeeze ten people into a car built for five and drive to the nearest beach to swim in the ocean as the sun comes up.

I’m still not published (still not done writing a manuscript that’s ready to be published) but of the people who’ve read my work, a consistent bit of feedback I’ve gotten is “this feels so real.” I tend to base my fiction on my life: aspects of people I’ve met, settings of places I’ve been, emotions I’ve actually experienced. I think it feels real because it all is, or was, at one point in my life.

So. To each our own and I’m definitely not knocking young writers. This is more for people like me, who may or may not have regrets about not starting sooner.

Living is important. Especially if, like me, you want the stuff you write to be epic (and who doesn’t?) Don’t regret all those times you were young and chose going out and doing dumb stuff over staying in and writing. Use it to make your writing good. Epic, even.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

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