Portrait of the Author as a Young Poser

People on Twitter were playing this game where they “tweet” as themselves at 16. Or to themselves at 16; the rules weren’t clear. I dislike Twitter games as a rule, but jumped on this one. It got me thinking about myself at 16. I’d just moved from Liberia to the suburbs of DC. I got my first job at a Hardees off the highway. I started smoking (I smoked throughout college but quit shortly after graduating). I went to a big suburban high school and had, really, no friends at all. Not even the one Milhouse-type friend I would give myself if I were writing about it, because it would be easier to write. I might have done better as a senior, but I’d already switched schools again, this time moving to Brasilia and enjoying the easy alliances of other frequently and recently transplanted kids.

That was the year I became obsessed with the Beatles; seriously obsessed. I didn’t have anyone to share my passion with, so I started a novel called Strawberry Fields Forever about a lonely teen obsessed with The Beatles. I had my eyes on a contest then run by Avon (which is mostly a romance imprint) for teen writers, but my book only got a few pages deep — the story, like my life, had no plot. Still, it was my first earnest try at a novel. I’d been wanting to be a writer for a long time, and that was my first “get serious” moment where I cracked down and took a shot at something, with a deadline and daily word count goals I’d need to meet it, but I realized then (and for the next twenty-odd years) that writing a novel was a heck of a lot harder than it seemed. So I guess I use the words “earnest” and “seriously” loosely. I was easily daunted by the task. I fell behind and dropped out. I didn’t get far and never even showed my fledgling manuscript to anybody.

If I could tweet as myself at 16, it might look like this:

* Started my new AMAZING novel. I wrote four whole pages. It’s incredible. That prize is as good as mine.

* Need to get cracking on my amazing novel. Deadline looming. Maybe over the holidays I’ll write a whole bunch of words.

* Hanging out in a dark room and listening to the Beatles all day is kind of like doing research.

* I guess I missed the deadline. Maybe I’ll try against next year.

Did I rock, in the language of NaNoWriMo participants, for even trying? I dunno. To me there’s not much pride in having barely done something, and done that much badly. If I could communicate to myself in 140 characters, I would say:

*  Oh, just write the thing. You’ve got nothing else to do. P.S. You need a plot.

I wish I had those pages. They are long gone. My earliest extant writing is from age 17. I don’t remember the main character or what happens in that “novel’s” happenless way, except that it took place in the margins of Washington DC and that the main character’s father had died in Vietnam, and he would occasionally bus to the capital and find his father’s name one the wall. My life had no such drama, but I still think that’s a pretty compelling opening.

Given a different set of circumstances and a plot, and the right tweet in my direction, something might of come of it, but nothing did.

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