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A letter to my budding-writer younger self.

April 9, 2010 \pm\30 7:03 pm

With the help of the fate-machine we sometimes call the Internet, I recently read a letter published this past fall in the Daily Mail.  It was from, of all people, Simon Cowell.  Who was it to? Simon Cowell, of course.

Yes, on the eve of his 50th birthday, a man accused of having a Don Draper-sized ego wrote a letter to himself.  Specifically, his shallow, reckless, cocky younger self. This letter turned out to be quite an opus; it is charming, I guess, and also definitely creepy.  Throughout the letter there is a latent thread of mainstream, semi-meta, open letter hilarity and, I hope, honesty.  Although there might be one too many puns about champagne and Power Rangers.

Inspired by the sage wisdom of Mr. Cowell, I decided to write a letter to my young writer self, before I knew I’d be a writer and thought, instead, that I was probably just a weirdo.

I don’t know if I’ll write back.

A Letter To My Innocent, Confused, Budding-Writer Younger Self.
Dear Melanie,

Let me begin with a warning: anything you write that your mother or grandmother deem adorable will be saved and paraded around for your embarrassment when you are older.  You will regret writing filling out the “About Me!” ditto on the first day of second grade and saying that your favorite hobby is horseback riding when you’ve never ridden a horse in your entire life.  Your imagined equestrian excursions will make you cringe.

Also, be careful when keeping any sort of journal or diary or slam-book (a shared journal, for those of you unfamiliar with the slam-book: two or more friends write back and forth to each other, handing the notebook off between classes, and inevitably losing it in the cafeteria/gymnasium/auditorium etc.).  Even if you write this journal starting at the back of a notebook, and even if you flip it upside to further confuse any prying eyes, and even if you change the names of people you are writing about, you will get caught writing about them.  You’ll think the code names Montana Deer (for guitar-strumming 15-year-old dreamboat Matthew Donovan) and Red Vine (for the spiky-haired high school junior and Italian Stallion Ricky Vambucci) would be enough to conceal certain identities. But you’ll be wrong.

Please read fewer Babysitter’s Club books and more books by Roald Dahl, and read fewer books borne from TV shows or movies and more books that you see acted out on the television show Wishbone. Don’t feel bad if Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? doesn’t catch your attention or if Go Ask Alice reads as a little hokey; this does not mean you aren’t an “active reader.”  And keep in mind, just because R.L. Stine writes compelling murder mysteries does not mean that you have to imitate this plot structure.  Know that when you try to write a murder mystery on a yellow legal pad about a girl who finds a body in a walk-in freezer on a cruise ship, your mother will find it and show it to the neighbor in order to determine whether or not she should be concerned about you.

Perhaps it’s necessary to go back earlier, into the years before your milky pen met legal pad and the rest was history.  How about to the years you spent reading Dear America novels and pretending you were, among other things, a third class Irish immigrant on the Titanic, a daughter waiting for her father to return home from the American Revolution during the Winter of Red Snow, or a child laborer in Industrial Revolution-era New York City in a shirtwaist factory.  This is, in its purest form, a portrait of youthful imagination.  But other children will not be impressed with your role-playing or your Dear America books, not even if they come with silky ribbons attached to act as place holders.

The most confusing time for your developing writer sensibilities will be high school, however.  You will feel brilliantly awkward when you are the only one raising your hand in English class and inconsolably isolated when you work really hard on a first-person-narration of a modern day Hester Prynne Scarlet Letter-style story about a single mom fleeing an abusive husband and receive the story back with nary a comment on it aside from a check plus atop the paper.  You will know your teacher didn’t read your assignment, and you won’t understand why until you go to a private college in upstate New York that prides itself on training future teachers; this is when you’ll realize that English is the concentration that most future-teachers choose because they are bad at math and science and find history boring (but still want summers off for the rest of their adult lives–and really who can blame them?).  This isn’t true of all English teachers, and there will be gems.  But, as is true with any subject in the public school curriculum, there will be duds.  Don’t let them get you down.

And when you enter an MFA program and have your writing rejected from legions of literary magazines–when you feel, in fact, that there might be a conspiracy against publishing writing that isn’t already lauded and published to begin with–try playing a good old game of child laborer in a shirtwaist factory, and things won’t seem so bad for someone like you.



  1. April 10, 2010 \am\30 3:43 am 3:43 am

    Dead on.

  2. Ms Jane permalink
    April 10, 2010 \pm\30 3:08 pm 3:08 pm

    Ok, Mel I have finished the first assignment and look forward to more.
    Take care.

  3. mollytolsky permalink
    April 10, 2010 \pm\30 7:39 pm 7:39 pm

    I feel like you read very sophisticated literature as a child. Dear America sounds like some heavy shit. I mostly stuck to the American Girl collection of books that dealt with how to shave your legs and talk to boys. At least I’m really good at the shaving thing.

  4. Taylor Keupp permalink
    April 11, 2010 \pm\30 10:16 pm 10:16 pm

    This piece is truly inspirational. It makes you think about your past and examine the process of discovering yourself, and think about the determining factors that have made you who you are today. As a woman with many years of experience, this is very realistic and easy to relate to. This is phenomenal, Kudos to the author.

  5. April 13, 2010 \am\30 11:35 am 11:35 am

    Nice job, Mellie Mel. And tres interesting comments. It made me think about all my Mad and Cracked magazines, and how low culture I was/am, then then.

  6. Zachary Fronef permalink
    April 27, 2010 \pm\30 6:04 pm 6:04 pm

    This is one of the best articles I have ever read on this website. I hope you aren’t “about to die” like the other writers published on this website because I would love to read more of your work.

    • April 27, 2010 \pm\30 10:21 pm 10:21 pm

      Stay classy, Zachary! Thanks for your support.

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