To Julia, 2007

A letter to my 11-year-old-self. 

Dear Julia,

Congratulations on winning the poetry contest! I’d forgotten about the contest, but Mama found a printed copy in her bottom desk drawer last week and she sent it to me. I enjoyed rereading it! I also read the note that Mrs. Kennedy left for you too – did you read it? In the note, Mrs. Kennedy told you to consider becoming a poet someday. You didn’t take that to heart though, huh? Because you thought poetry could only ever be a hobby. There’s no such thing as a professional poet, you thought.

Poets don’t make money, you thought. They can’t support themselves. So you decided to keep poetry as a hobby so you could focus on your academics instead.

You’re going to do really well in school, you know – you’ll get good grades all through middle school and then high school and then you’ll get accepted into a prestigious university. (No, I’m not going to tell you where! That would spoil the surprise. It’s a nice one though, trust me.)

But when you enter college, you’ll realize that you have no idea what you want to do with you life. You’ve spent the last few years devoting your time to things that SCHOOL wanted you to study, not what YOU wanted. You never gave yourself the opportunity to figure out what you really care about, so once you had the chance to choose – you got lost. You didn’t know which direction to take because you had no idea what you really wanted.

So you asked Dada, what should I do? And he told you to become a lawyer because lawyers love reading and writing and you’ve always loved to read and write. So that’s what you did – you chose to major in Political Science and focused on doing well academically again, since law school expects applicants to have perfect grades.

But that won’t make you happy. In fact, it’ll even make you sad, frustrated, and hopeless.

Now, I know that this definitely does not sound like very good news, but don’t worry, you won’t be sad forever. Because at the end of your 2nd year in college, you’re going to make a life-changing decision – you’re going to take a creative writing class! This class will give you the chance to write again. But not academic writing – CREATIVE writing. You’ll get to write a poem, a short story, and a creative non-fiction piece. You’ll write a poem and your professor will compliment it in front of everyone. You’ll thrive in that class. Your passion for creative writing will be rekindled. And then you’ll realize that writing is the only thing that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Not law. You want to be a writer, Julia, not a lawyer. I need you to understand that now, while you’re still 11 years old. Imagine how much you – we! – can write in ten years. A lot!

So even if you don’t like the stuff that you write, write anyway. Even if you don’t think that you can support yourself as a writer, write anyway! Because you are born to be writer and you will want to be a writer for the rest of your life. Trust me on this.

Because now that I’ve finally decided to devote my life to writing, I’ve never been happier. And I want you to be happy, Julia. I want us to be happy.

From,

Julia

Reno, 2009

It’s September in Nevada – the air is sticky with heat. The sun is brighter in Nevada – and hotter. My cousin Megan and I sit inside the hangar to avoid the sun for a while. We try to talk over the roar of engines echoing against the metal walls. When we get bored we step outside and look up at the airplanes zipping above our heads with a zzz, about to complete another lap. They have many more to go. I think about my dad and my stomach knots – it’s his race next and I’m a little worried. He’s a good pilot though, I tell myself, he’ll be safe.

My mom and Nathan and Kalli and I don’t usually go to watch my Dad, Uncle Bill, and Grandpa fly at the Reno Air Races, but this year we do. I don’t know why – maybe because I’m thirteen now and Nathan’s ten so we’re old enough to watch over ourselves. My mom and Aunt Dawn and Grandma Marilyn are playing cards in the shade behind the table with the t-shirts on display. I wonder why anyone would want to buy a t-shirt with an airplane on the front.

I ask Megan if she wants to ride our Razor scooters and she says yes, so we pick them up (hers has a pink bow, mine’s gold), carry them past the airplanes on display, and through the throngs of spectators. There are lots of middle-aged men with red baseball caps and khaki shorts, their cheeks the shade of their hats. Megan and I ride down the runway, side by side. The runway is long and straight and the asphalt is smooth – the wheels glide over the surface like bread on butter. And I push faster, faster, until I feel like I’m floating. I’m moving at the speed of the airplanes above my head. “It’s the Eberhardt girls!” I hear someone say as I sail past. My cheeks flush with pride, proud to be an Eberhardt. I reach the caution tape and then turn back. I want to wish my dad good luck before his race starts.

“Just write. Write everyday of your life.”

Writing is hard. Even the best of the best, the masters of the craft, can attest to that. Jim Tully said, “Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”

Thinking about writing is easy. We all have ideas for our creative pieces – fuzzy visions of our own fantasy world, deconstructed plot lines, conversations between characters – running rampant in the depths of our imagination… Developing the blueprint of our story in our heads takes time, yes, but it’s straightforward and it can even be fun. It can be easy to get carried away and imagine the story sent to a publisher and printed onto paper. But sitting down, translating those thoughts into coherent sentences and getting content onto the page? That’s hard – really hard.

With the advent of the internet, distractions are rife – why gruel over a blank Microsoft Word document when you can read the daily news or scan weather reports or watch Buzzfeed’s latest feature on an artisan doughnut shop selling maple-dipped doughnuts flaked with gold? It’s so easy to to find some excuse as to why we don’t write – why we don’t have time or the resources, why our attention is desperately required elsewhere.

I too experience this tireless, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding process of not being able to translate my creative ideas into words. I understand how exhausting and disheartening it is. I’ve tried multiple ways to try to overcome writer’s hump. Waking up at 6am, reading classics and emulating the author’s style, responding to writing prompt after writing prompt – I’ve tried it all, hoping to find a cure-all elixir-like technique that whips me into shape, channels every ounce of my creative energy, spurs my artistic writerly senses to the point where thoughts start overflowing onto paper in the form of beautifully crafted prose. But I’m sorry to say that nothing worked; there’s no easy way around the grueling-ness of the writing process. But although I can’t tell you the magic formula for writing (because there isn’t one), I can give you one piece of advice: write something every single day.

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, said “Write. Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

At the start of the new year, I made a promise to myself that I would write something everyday. I created a Google Doc on January 1st and wrote about a page on what I did that day. On January 2nd I did the same thing – and then on the 3rd and 4th. I left the document open on my desktop as a constant reminder. During midterms and finals week, I didn’t have time to write a page-long entry, but I made sure to at least write a sentence or two. I wrote about anything that stuck out to me that day – who I was with, what I ate, how I felt, why I felt that way etc. It’s not glamorous and it’s not the kind of content I’d submit to a literary magazine, but it’s still writing.

So if you’re serious about writing and developing as a writer, but find yourself unable to write, this might be a helpful exercise for you. Buy a cheap notebook or start a new document, title each entry with the date, and write whatever your heart desires. Don’t agonize over what you choose to write down or the quality of what you write. The most important thing about writing something everyday isn’t necessarily the content – though the content does has value – but developing the habit. All you need to do is spit something into a notebook or an open Google doc for a few minutes a day and that alone will suffice. Because at the end of the day, you practiced writing. In the process, you’re developing your voice, your style, and the habit.
And hey, maybe one day you’ll reread what you wrote and use it as the frame for your next novel! So stop making excuses and start writing.