Eight Year Old Birthday Advice | Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received

While checking my author Twitter page (@ro_deidre) one day, I see a tweet from fellow writer (@MagicalOverload) declaring it was her niece’s eighth birthday. “If you could give your 8 year old self any advice…what would you say?” My reply was the following:

“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You’ll learn more from those ‘wrong’ answers than from the ‘right’ ones. And, yes, you’re different from the others and that’s okay.”

I remember feeling like the most shy and awkward kid on the planet. My mother would always tell me several things before I left for school. The one that always stuck out was “make Mommy proud.” Did that contribute to my need for perfectionism? Yes, indeed!

I was very quiet. But not when I did certain activities my mom, rightfully, pushed me toward, like dancing and singing. In elementary school, I was often called ‘teacher’s pet’ and ‘goody two-shoes’ because I was afraid of disappointing my mother by getting answers wrong on a test or doing something wrong, and being deemed a ‘naughty little girl’ unworthy of Mom’s love and affection.

Throughout much of my secondary education, I was afraid of doing or saying something wrong, too. You know those times in school when you raise your hand to answer a question and the teacher just looks at you with the ‘why did you say that nonsense because you’re absolutely wrong’ face that causes the entire class to giggle and point. I avoided those at all costs, even when I had the right answer. That continued into undergraduate and graduate studies until I decided to get my MFA. I figured that creativity must allow for some freedom and openness. Turns out that my MFA program was where I received the best writing, and life, advice ever from my fave person and professor. He told me to embrace my weirdness and that it’s okay to not get it exactly right the first time you write something down. That’s what being a writer is all about.

With those words, my eight-year-old self could breathe a sigh of relief. I’d always known I was different but tried to hide it away in some corner or lockbox somewhere as if that would make me perfect or normal. It’s insane to think that I’d still been holding onto the ideal of attaining perfection after all these years. Hell, I’ll be 40 in February, so I guess it’s about time to let that go and just be my perfectly imperfect weird self and express that on paper. I’ve told my students the same thing. It’s okay that your first draft is trash just so long as you’re writing something down. Well, that and if you wait until the last minute to do your assignment, you’re guaranteed to not have enough time to draft your way past the trash stage. LOL.

There are times where I struggle to get words down on paper, but only because I’m still researching and working out whether my idea and its necessary precision and execution are going to be understood and well-received. But, at the very least, I know enough to get past this internal tug-of-war and am willing to learn from those ‘wrong’ answers.

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