I'm reading a book called Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. It's a compilation of advice letters/blogs she wrote to all different people, through her Dear Sugar series. One of the ones I was reading today was written by a 'struggling writer'. This person was 26-years old. She felt as if she has all these things to write, all these things she wanted to say, but she couldn't get them down.
I've been there.
I started my first novel, Sex and Algebra, when I was 24. At that point, and for years afterward, I could only get to middle of the plot. I tried and tried, but I could never get past the struggle of the main character. I think one of the reasons is that I, like my main character, was in my mid-20's. At that age, you don't really have the capacity to fuck up. Most 20-somethings do not have enough power to make major mistakes. They have a lot of energy, and a lot drive (which, In my opinion, this should be used more), but the story of the 20-something is just being written. A direction is just being started. The 'aha' moments are just coming. Like the moment you first get screwed over when it comes to love. Previously, you'd had dreams and ideals, and then someone disagrees with them - which means they reject you at a very base level - and you realize not everyone wants what you want. Or you'll make a mistake, professionally - a bad mistake, but someone else is there to fix it. It's usually not until you're there, or a little bit older, that you have the perspective to really deal with them. Maybe the way to say it is that in your 20's, often there is someone else to help fix, or get you out of, a problem. The 20's, I'd say, are a journey of discovery that leads to the 30's where you really get to pursue what you want, to be who you want to be.
Doing a life-scope, I'd say that a lot of youth is about avoiding major mistakes. Once you turn 18, you have the ability to do something that will really impact your life. You can get a felony, which has a negative impact. Positively, you have the first major decision of your life regarding choices for the next step. Do you start a career? Join the military? Go to college? Do something else? The answer leads you to your 20's, where you're either developing a skill, getting your foot in the door, or gaining the knowledge you need to take it to the next level. We lose a lot of good people in their 20's.
A lot of 20-somethings begin with a dream. A lot of them have a goal and a place they see themselves, but the vast majority give up that dream in exchange for stability. They'll work a job they don't really care for because it offers good benefits. They'll marry someone they're not really in love with, because it's good enough and the prospect of starting over doesn't sound appealing. They'll have kids and pour into their kids, figuring their own life is now about something else. And that's not really bad, but a lot of people give up on the story before it truly begins to unfold. In the realm of the personal, in the 20's, bad things often start to happen. Friends die. Parents die. Spouses cheat. In most friend groups, there are at least a few divorces by the end of this decade. It's also where the little changes in your life start having a major effect upon the life decisions in your 30's.
If you have kids in your mid-20's, they'll be in high school when you're in your 30's. If your work is heading in a good direction in your 20's, you'll see these benefits of this work in your 30's. If you invest well, and make a few sacrifices at this age, your ability to do good things will only increase. The converse is also true. Bad marriage choices in your 20's, or settling in your 30's, leads to custody battles and sloppy divorces. Bland careers lead to either general boredom or a time to reinvent. Most people will suffer a major loss.
Especially when you're facing your 40's, seeing them on the horizon - if you know a lot of people - you see how all these different choices affected and impacted people. You see the results of decisions that you maybe even questioned at the time they were made play out. You see people that partied a little too much enter rehab or get DUI's. Seeing life play out can really expand your mind. You can see, really start to see, how it's little things that impact the big things. You identify patterns and habits and see how the daily decisions add up to a big or small life.
This is what hit me as I read the Struggling Writer. If this is you - in any field, but especially if it's creative - don't stop. The struggle is a major part of what it takes to get there. Struggle does two things: it breaks people or you get through it.
If it breaks you, you become one of those that settles. One of those that may someday say 'What if?' But if you get through it, you gain a confidence that you can get through a struggle, you start to thing that struggle may just be a part of art. Or, you may see that Struggle isn't really a bad thing, and that maybe you should have used words like Growth Period or Learning Process instead. To get out of a struggle, you have to find what works for you, which is how you develop the patterns and habits that lead to real, actual, tangible change. You realize that how you respond to the struggle impacts the rest of your life.
Then, you have something to say. Once I was able to do this, personally, my main character grew. He expanded. He realized that he could go forward in his own direction, and then: he had something to say.