Don’t Be a Delicate Flower: Advice to a Younger Kathleen

This week, we’re sharing what we’d wished we’d known when we started writing. It’s a hard question. While I tell people I didn’t start writing seriously until about age 36, I’m realizing that’s not really true.

This is the delicate flower I wish I wasn’t.

The first story I remember writing, all the way from start to finish, was a pirate adventure. I wrote it when I was nine, I think. I can’t remember the details, but there was definitely a treasure chest. I remember a guy with a scraggly beard and maybe a peg leg. There were the requisite gold coins. I skipped lines on the paper. The next year, I touch-typed a novella on our family’s Apple IIc. Remember those? The book was about a friendly monster who lived under some kid’s bed, a sort of a poor man’s Monsters, INC. and many years before its time. In sixth grade, I wrote a memoir about my family’s travels to China. My teacher took me to McDonald’s for lunch after I handed that one in. We discussed revisions and the potential for publication. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. In middle and high school, I wrote lots of humorous plays and a trove of completely emo poems, as well as a zillion personal essays about running, which has been my other lifelong hobby.

Then, between the ages of 17 and 26, I wrote nothing but academic papers and conference proposals and comments on the essays of my students. Finally, in 2004 after I’d learned about blogs in a graduate school class, I started writing one. No one read my particular blog, but it didn’t matter. I wrote on it all the time, sometimes spending hours on a single 500-word piece, trying to get the dialogue or the timing just right. I told stories about my kids and my husband and my running and my work. I interacted with other writers. This blog was pure joy.

So, when I started writing fiction five years ago for the first time since childhood, I had a writing practice already. I was used to endless revision. I’d had the feeling of putting myself out there, even though not everyone was interested or would approve. 

I can’t think of what I didn’t know about writing that I wish I had. 

I already knew that writing is hard and sometimes frustrating. I already knew that I write better when I do it almost every day. I knew that writing was more rewarding when I built a community of people with whom to do it. Maybe I didn’t know about the waiting and uncertainty of traditional publishing, but to be honest, it’s not shocking to me. I think happiness in writing depends on dedication to craft, a willingness to make new friends, and a thick enough skin to accept feedback.

I do wish I’d had that last thing at a slightly younger age, but alas, I’ve been mostly a delicate flower until very recently.

What about you? What do you wish you’d known about writing? What would you tell your younger self? I guess I’d tell mine to toughen up, just to get ready.

The following two tabs change content below.

Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Latest posts by Kathleen West (see all)

Leave a Reply