Friday, October 12, 2012

To thine own self be true

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Ah, Will Shakespeare can turn a phrase, can't he?  The above is from "Hamlet," Polonius to his son, Laertes.

Much has been made lately of authors writing to their young selves. There's even a collection of letters from famous authors to their teen selves, "The Letter Q."  This one is in regard to sexual orientation but there are others, plus blog posts galore, many inspired by Oprah Winfrey.

You know what I'd tell my younger self? Be true to yourself. Be honest about what you really love.  Don't waste time on things and people you don't feel passion for. It's not like I'm telling Teen Leigh to be all Goth or not to drink or want to hang out with the popular kids. But Teen Leigh definitely had a dark streak, one that she didn't think she should have - or had a right to have. In her mind, people who liked reading horror or science fiction, who imagined impossible worlds and insane characters, were people who had unusual past lives, who experienced trauma or abuse or other hardships.  Girls who grew up in middle class households and attended women's colleges, who danced and studied hard, generally and generically speaking, "good girls," didn't like those things.

For much of her life, that Teen Leigh's "preferred" thoughts prevailed and the things she liked and dreamt about were pushed aside.  She felt false a lot of the time but then the fake truth became kind of real. Until now.

While I am super proud of having been published by a big publisher and I love seeing my books on library shelves, I don't think Teen Leigh would have read them.  She haunted the stacks for creepier reads, for uneven books, messy books, stories that didn't have happy endings and whose narrators were good people who went bad. Lots of middle-aged people will tell you the same thing, "Never regret. Do what you love." That's because, when you reach a certain place in your life, you can see the end of the tunnel. You don't want to spend one minute more doing something you don't like.

Writers are told all the time that they should only write what they love. Part of the reason for that is that it takes a long time to write a book and you will spend many, many hours with your characters. But the other part of it is that you can only write passionately and honestly about things you truly love. As I explore darker elements in my stories, characters and situations that I might not have written about in the past, I am finally finding the passion that was missing.  I love what I'm writing,  I love what I'm doing.