Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Older Me Has to Say to Younger Me

by Mindy McGinnis

I started writing when I was in college after having literally thrown a book across a room. You might hear people say fairly often that a book was so bad, or it made them so angry that they threw it across a room. But yes, I actually threw it. This was a book that everyone loved, including my professor. It was supposed to have deep insights into human complexity. It was supposed to make life make sense.

And it was drivel. Unadulterated crap on a stick.

So I threw it, and decided if that could get published and win accolades, then surely it was about time I move all the stories from my head onto paper and get a few of those for myself.

I then proceeded to sit down and produce my own drivel, a Mindy-Version of unadulterated crap on a stick.

I'm not saying the book I threw has become any better with time and distance (it hasn't), but I am saying that I've learned a lot about subjectivity, marketing, and the repulsive quality of an oversized ego. I've heard more than one agent say that an author who believes they are the best thing that ever happened typically can't write worth a crap. Authors who know they have weaknesses and are open to improving and learning are the ones that will rise above.

I didn't want to know that when I was younger. I wanted to be a shining star rising out of the slag heap, a source of light for everyone to crowd around and heat their fingers, numb from hours of holding senseless crap-on-a-stick books. Um, yeah, I really thought I was that great.

And I wasn't. And I'm still not. And I'm old enough to get that now.

Any author who is honest with themselves will tell you that when we open our editorial letter we question ourselves for even attempting to climb this crazy mountain that is the publishing world. We re-read everything we wrote the day before when we open the WIP and suspect we may have lost whatever little magic we were operating with before that point. We read books written by authors better than ourselves and set them down thinking, "Wow. I will never, ever be that good."

And as long as I'm open to the possibility that I just might suck, I know that I'm going to keep getting better.


Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners, From the Write Angle, The Class of 2k13 and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter, Tumblr & Facebook.


  1. So well said, Mindy! When I was 18, I was salivating over how brilliant I'd be as a published author. I am quite lucky that this happened to me later in life. I'm not so much wiser, except that now I know how much I don't know.

    1. Absolutely Claire. I feel like things happened for me "later" because I was in no way mature enough (or good enough) to get anywhere yet when I thought I was awesome. Lesson learned.

  2. Great post, Mindy.

    This... "And as long as I'm open to the possibility that I just might suck, I know that I'm going to keep getting better." Is sheer brilliance.

    Thank you. I suck at writing, too.

    1. Heh Heh.

      I'm an athlete as well. There's a saying that no matter how good you are, someone out there is practicing when you're not. And when you meet them, they will beat you.

      I think it's good to adapt that attitude for writing as well. There will always be people out there that are better than us at writing, and if we continue to aspire to be as good as they are, we will grow.

      Claiming that you're the best, or believing that you're the best, means there's nowhere for you to go but down.