Updated: Jul 18
Dear thirteen-year-old me,
After losing your stuffed elephant and best friend, you brought a giant notebook to middle school and wrote letters to her while your classmates ate dinner (alas, the sorrows of attending a private boarding school in China!). Little did you know, those letters were the beginning of your writing journey.
Growing up in a household full of chaos and arguments, writing was your escape. The sound of pen marrying pages comforted you. Words were your favorite harmonies; they sang lullabies on the countless nights when you couldn’t sleep. You wrote not for an audience but for yourself.
You started high school in rural Missouri. No one at your school submitted to any literary magazine or won any award, and you didn’t have anyone to ask. As a first generation student in the U.S., your family didn't have the knowledge either. You found young writers with amazing credentials on the internet, and you wanted to give it a try.
In junior year, you became stressed out about college admissions. You worried that you didn't have enough awards or activity to put on the Common App. Writing is your biggest passion, and you felt like you had to prove it. You spent hours doing research, crafting your works, making a list of places to submit. You asked your English teacher for recommendations (he has been incredibly supportive). And at first, it was kind of fun.
But soon, it left you burned out. The fire is furious and draining, unlike the warmth of getting an idea for a story. The seed of a story demanding to be told is powerful but gentle, born with the hope of making people feel less alone. But the fire fueled by competitiveness only pushed you further away from your goal.
You pondered what type of content the contests want. You subconsciously shifted your style to fit into what the judges might be looking for. You doubted yourself as a writer. Why am I not good enough?
Slowly, you lost yourself.
Everything is competitive these days. When you tell someone that you are a writer, they ask if you've won any award, if your work is published in any magazine, if you plan to finish a novel. Especially with the stress of college admissions in the U.S., lots of students feel the pressure to attend prestigious summer programs or to be recognized at national competitions to prove themselves as writers.
But is it worth it?
I remembered the pure joy of writing. The joy of building a world out of nothing. The joy of finding the perfect word for a poem after searching for hours. The joy (and sadness) of putting down the final word for my first novel.
I remembered the pain of growing up transgender and not having the language to describe my discomfort, of battling dysphoria and mental illness, of facing all sort of discrimination. I remembered how therapeutic writing was, how many times I told myself “writing saved your life," how I made a promise to use my words to make people feel less alone.
I remembered the little boy who never said his writer dream aloud but held onto the pen during his darkest days. He wrote what he needed to read, and the writing transported him to a magic world.
Imposter syndrome is prevalent among writers, especially young writers, who are rarely taken seriously. Sometimes we try too hard to prove ourselves and forget our purpose. After thinking long and hard, I decided to focus on improving my writing and take a break from the publishing world.
I have so many amazingly talented friends who have won national awards and have their works published in renowned magazines, and they deserve all the praises and congratulations in the world. I admire their ability and courage to put themselves out in there, and I am wholeheartedly happy for them.
However, I want to tell you that awards or publication aren't a requirement to be a writer. It's okay if you want to wait. I want to remind you of your purpose. Why did you start writing? Whether it’s the desire to tell a story, the fascination with language, or the naive wish of reaching your stuffed elephant through undelivered letters, do not forget that. It is hard to stay focused when the system encourages us to compete against each other and “get ahead” in the race of life, but I believe in you. Every writer is a warrior and a friend, and remember, your words will fight injustices and make people feel less alone.