Well, not much younger… Maybe three years ago; the about to graduate “me.”
I would have told him these things: (These aren’t really in any order of importance, just what comes to mind. )
1. Take a marketing class. You’re an idiot. You don’t know how to sell anything. It doesn’t matter how good you are at writing if you don’t know how to describe your work in terms that a possible publisher/distributor can understand and relate to. Arm yourself with information. You are about to walk into the world completely blind. You are a level one spell-caster with no armor. Start memorizing your spells now.
2. Write everyday. If you want to improve in writing, then you have to accept the fact that there will come a point in the future where you will look back at the things you’re doing today and recoil in horror at how “bad you were.” This is actually a mark of improvement, and with that in mind, you should use this as a means of liberating yourself from “needing to be good every time.” Give yourself the freedom to write terrible things. Everything will be bad at first. Get used to that. You being frustrated with your writing means you’re on the right path towards improvement.
3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know, right? Right after I just said “EVERYTHING YOU DO IS GOING TO BE TERRIBLE FOR TEN YEARS.” (I never said ten years, but mathematically that’s about how long it takes to get good at something if you do it everyday) But remember: writing is hard. Getting good feedback is hard. Taking criticism and applying it in a constructive way is even harder. Publishing? Come on, if publishing were easy would you be reading this?
4. Push yourself. There is a difference between sitting in a pity party, whining about why things aren’t happening for you and putting your whole being into what you’re doing. Go to weird places in your writing. Do you know how much brain power you use trying to convince yourself NOT to write? All of it. You’re using all of the brain power. Just a few minutes ago your brain convinced you to read this bullshit instead of making some headway on whatever it is you really should be working on. But seriously, the advice gets really good from here on out, so keep reading.
5. Get a job, hippie. When looking for jobs, find menial tasks that allow you to write in your down time. I work in a library and a comedy club. There is lots of time to write. Here’s a tip: email yourself material. It looks a lot like you’re working really hard. Having little tasks to break up your writing is helpful also, especially in the editing process. I always end up having to reread lines when I take writing breaks to help people. Nothing improves your writing like getting sick of reading your own writing. It also keeps you from obsessing.
6. Move slowly. I live in a city. I take the bus. When I can, I walk everywhere. Driving takes up too much brain power. Your commute to and from work can be a time for you to think about your writing. My bus route takes up to two hours to travel a little over nine miles. That time is spent reading, writing or brainstorming. As I said in number 2, you have to admit that sometimes you will shit your writer’s bed. If you need to do some whiny, narcissistic lamenting, why not do it on a composition pad on the bus like all the other weirdos?
7. Carry paper and pens with you. Or pencils if you’re wrong all the time. I think writing by hand is invaluable. It not only forces you to slow down and consider your word choice more carefully (most people under 50 type way faster than they write) but it also imposes another stage of editing when you transpose onto a computer. I carry multiple page sizes with me. Full college, graph paper, composition paper, and little hand books. Every size lends itself towards different writing rhythms. Make it a novelty. Even superficial means of getting excited about writing get you excited about writing.
8. Read. I don’t do this enough, but no one does and it is obvious enough for all writers that you should be doing this. Read outside your comfort zone. AND READ NON-FICTION. SPECIFICALLY NON-FICTION BOOKS ON HOW THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY WORKS. Come on, that should be obvious. Nerd.
9. Make use of your local library. This is a cost saving measure. Not only that, but your librarian can help you find not only what you’re specifically looking for, but other things in your topic of interest that you might have not thought of. This isn’t a plug for the library because I work at a library. I also recommend doing this because going to the library puts yourself in a quiet room with other people who are either trying to improve their minds or get some work done. It’s a great environment for writers.
10. Exercise, you nerd. Usually, writer’s block can be dealt with using a long walk. It’s better than drinking. Here’s the trick: Actively try to not think about your writing. Your brain will say “fuck you” (because it’s always working against you, isn’t it?) and give you a great idea. That’s also why you should always carry paper with you. Your brain will be a dick and give you ideas in the moments where it’s really not appropriate to sit down and flesh out a thought on paper. Do it anyway. Piss off your friends, coworkers, patrons at the library who don’t understand why you won’t look away. The great thing about the library is that it’s a government job, and those are pretty hard to get fired from, especially for things like poor customer service. For proof, visit ANY GOVERNMENT BUILDING EVER. I get in trouble with my girlfriend constantly because I’ll have an idea and stop listening to her mid-sentence. Sometimes, I’ll just walk away from her completely as she yells at me.
11. Have a life. Yes, you should put in four to six hours a day on craft in some capacity whether it be reading, writing or just thinking about it on a walk. Yes, you should give your writing a high priority. Yes, you will and should make sacrifices for it. But you also should enjoy your life. The greatest inspirations will not come from the outside world, nor the inner workings of your soul, but the combination of the two. Get black out drunk once in a while. Finger blast a stranger. Spend time with your family and loved ones, especially if your family is full of dicks. There is some great material there. You can do all of these things at readings. There is wine at readings. Drink it all. Here’s a fun drinking game: Every time an author says “uhm,” take a drink.