Role Models and Mirages

A friend emailed me yesterday and asked if I'd be willing to meet with her 11 year old step daughter and talk to her about writing. She included a sweet email from her daughter to me in which the girl said that I was an inspiration. I've never received such a huge compliment... and it kind of sent me spinning. 

See, writing is something that I've known my whole life I would do. Someday. And at almost 40 years old, it was feeling like someday was going to be a mirage in my life, and that if I didn't pursue it seriously, I'd certainly never reach it or any of the possibility it might contain. I've written my whole life. But I never sat down to purposefully write a book until I was almost 40 years old. And that wasn't very long ago. So I'm not exactly an expert. 

Don't get me wrong -- I didn't just dive in. Or I did, rather, but at the same time, I threw myself into a frenzied course of self-learning, studying and networking. I scoured the Internet for information about publishing, about agents and about Amazon, Kobo and ibooks. I did my homework at the same time as I wrote. I knew that I wanted to be a hybrid author, and I was attracted to the well-organized community in the romance genre, so I decided to try writing romance. That wasn't what I'd dreamed of as a child, and it took a while to get myself past the lit major stigma that I was carrying around with me. You know, the one lots of us have. That romance isn't literature? That writing romance isn't as good as writing literary fiction? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. 

Anyway, now I've had just enough success to make me confident enough to call myself a "real" writer... but I had not thought that I might have anything to offer a young girl. Especially one who is much too young to read most of my books! 

But maybe that just means that I do still carry that stigma with me. Because I have found myself thinking that she must be sad that the only writer her mother knows publishes romance. But her note wasn't sad. And it wasn't critical of the choices I've made. It was respectful and gracious and sweet. And it made me feel bigger. 

So here's where I've come with this line of thinking. I do have advice to offer her. The tired advice we all get, certainly (write, write, don't give up!), but I have more useful words -- and those have come as a direct benefit of the genre that I've chosen. What will I tell her? 

This: You can write whatever you like. But you'll have the most success if you also seek out a community of other writers working in your genre who can build you up and support you when you fall. Open your ears and your heart, and absorb every bit of wisdom you can find. The world of romance writers has been wonderful to me so far, and I look forward to more wonderful connections with this great community. If I can offer anything to this young writer, it is the encouragement to find a community of her own. She reached out to me -- so she's already on the right path. And if I can walk a couple steps forward with her, then I'm happy to do so! 

If you're a writer, what advice have you offered young writers in your life? What should I tell her?