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A conversation with my teenage self

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I dislike teenagers. This is, I’m sure, incredibly unfair of me. It’s not their fault that their reasoning and awareness of others has been mangled by hormones, and there are a few who do a good approximation of human beings despite such disadvantages. But I’m not angry at teenagers really. No, the reason I would pick up most teenagers I meet by their collars and shake them (if I were not afraid of being arrested or stabbed), is that their time-wasting and ignorance of the life that lies ahead reminds me of my own teenage self.

So to relieve my frustration and thereby avoid prison or haemorrhage, let us take a trip in my time machine, where I can berate myself in person.


Original image courtsey of Alexey Kats.

  • Youth: What the Hell? What are you doing? You some kind of pervert? Aren’t you supposed to offer me sweets first? Hey… this is one weird car.

  • Wisdom: No, look at me you hormone-riddled wretch! It’s me!

  • Youth: Looks like something from the eighties. Haven’t I seen this car somewhere before?

  • Wisdom: Yeah, listen, you really should watch those films again. People are gonna take the piss out of you at uni when you can’t remember anything about them.

  • Youth: So that’s…

  • Wisdom: The Flux Capacitor.

  • Youth: And it runs on radiation, right?

  • Wisdom: Imagination. But that’s not important. Look me in the eye – I am you, from the future, and I bring a message!

Decide early

  • Youth: Hmmm… What message?

  • Wisdom: Time is running out! You need to decide what to do with yourself, and decide quickly.

  • Youth: Because the world’s going to end?

  • Wisdom: What? No! Well, yes eventually, I suppose, but you won’t be around to see it. I hope. Oh, unless that twenty-twelve thing comes true, but that’s probably nothing

  • Youth: What?

  • Wisdom: Nevermind. Look, you’ve got a few problems. One of them (which admittedly, is a nice problem to have), is that you’re good at a lot of things. Unfortunately you are not good at making decisions. And one day you’re going to have to decide between all these things you like doing and specialise. Pick something and you can start to work on being great at it.

  • Youth: But I’ve already picked something.

  • Wisdom: Sure. You know that I know you haven’t, right? You think you have, but you haven’t.

  • reaching a writing crossroads

    It's never too early to face those crossroads. Image courtesy of Mark Smallwood

  • Youth: No, I have, really. It’s drama, I think.

  • Wisdom: See, that’s the kind of wishy-washy thinking I’m talking about. That’s not a decision. You’re letting yourself be swept along by people calling you talented. What does “drama” mean, anyway? Are you talking about TV, theatre? And what steps are you taking towards this career?

  • Youth: I dunno.

  • Wisdom: Exactly. And by the way, I can tell you what you’ll pick, to save you some time, and it’s not acting. I won’t go into the reasons why, but it’s writing. It’s always been writing.

  • Youth: Huh. Yeah, I do some writing.

  • Wisdom: “I do some drama”, “I do some writing”. Stop dabbling, and start being! I know the careers people at the school just want you to pick some subjects, and they’d happily tell you it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to be yet…

  • Youth: What’s that line in that Sunscreen song? “Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I’ve met still don’t know what to do with their lives,” or something. Hey, did you know that the guy who did Strictly Ballroom -

  • Wisdom: Baz Lurman. Yes I did.

  • Youth: Oh yeah. Of course.

  • Wisdom: Well you shouldn’t listen to what that song says. I’m not saying you can’t have fun and everything, but while you’re dithering you’re only putting off that decision. Imagine how much progress you can make if that decision’s taken early.

  • Youth: Um.. Okay.

Do something that’s difficult

  • Wisdom: Right, good. Next, you know those poems and one page stories you’ve written, and the few stories you’ve done for English assignments?

  • Youth: They’re crap, right?

  • Wisdom: No, no. They’re fine. Feel free to do more. But they’re small potatoes.

  • Youth: They’re what? Are you sure you’re me? I’d never say small potatoes.

  • Wisdom: Do something difficult, is what I’m trying to say. You have some ideas for novels, or other big projects, I know you do, so start them. Do something long term, that you can’t just do in a night and say you’ve “done some writing”. You’ll learn a lot more, and you’ll have something substantial to show for it.

  • Youth: Do something challenging. Okay, what’s next?

Get some feedback

  • Wisdom: Get people to critique your work. By all means show it to people who you think will be impressed. But make sure there are people in there who won’t be.

  • Youth: Like…

  • Wisdom: Anyone who is going to give you honest criticism. This might be certain friends; English teachers are a good bet; you could look for writing groups online.

  • Youth: I asked an English teacher to look at my work once. She ended up making me read it to the class, like I just wanted to show off.

  • Wisdom: Well, maybe don’t ask her. But there are plenty of others. Even if they don’t teach you anymore, the worst they can do is say no.

  • Youth: Especially if they don’t teach me. What about, like, competitions and stuff?

  • Wisdom: Yes. Enter competitions. Also, stuff. Particularly good stuff is fiction magazines. You should be able to find some horror or Sci-Fi mags you can submit to. If you get in, they’ll pay you, but you probably won’t. what you might get though, is feedback, and that’s worth it’s weight in gold.

The Take Away…

  • Youth: So presumably you’re doing all this yourself in the future.

  • Wisdom: Some of it.

  • Youth: Why only some? Other than you’re a blatant hypocrite?

  • Wisdom: Things have changed a little in the future. Plus I’ve got a job, and a website to run.

  • Youth: So you want me to do all the work so you can relax and spend my fortune.

  • Wisdom: Ha! No I fully expect you to still be doing hard work when you’re my age. When you’re me, even. Whatever.

    The thing is – and this is what I really want to impress on you – you will never have as much free time as you have now, and you may never have as much raw inspiration as you get now. These are things not to be wasted. I’m not saying you can’t spend time playing computer games, or worrying about why girls don’t like you (hint: it’s because you’re worrying about why girls don’t like you). You may not agree, but trust me, there’s plenty of time to really, properly get into something you love now, and still be a teenager. This is an opportunity to get so much of the ground work in – to learn so much, and to produce so much. You’ll regret it if you don’t take advantage of it.

    Now, any questions?

  • Youth: Did you bring me back a hoverboard?

  • Guillaume

    Brilliant! Very original way to tell a story, I loved it! And very good advice too! Here’s mine to you : you’ve never had so much time as before you have a child :-)

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Ha! Yes, I was thinking that in a few month’s time I’d have to write another one – a conversation with my twenty-something self!

  • Craig

    Hey!  I could write one with my 20 something self, what with being on the wrong side of 30 and everything.  You do make a lot of very valid points here.  A lot of disturbingly relevent points (how we all wish we could go back in time and shake our teenage selves and tell them to stop messing about, stop spending all their time and focus on stupid stuff like Warhammer 40K and tell them to abandon their dreams and get used to being a mindless drone.)  Though I think there is one thing that you leave out (and its kind of important when it comes to writing) is that our teenage selves lack a degree of maturity and experience that may be necessary to the things we write.  Wrote.  Whatever.  This was the problem I had with the piece I was going on about in my fractal post.  I conceived the project when I was a teenager, and a lot of the ideas just dont hold up when looked through the maturity lens.  Hoping that I could somehow make it all work is part of the reason why its taken me so long solve the problems that this project has had…