What you wrote in high school . . .

. . . was powerful and potent at the time, but today it prevents you from developing as a writer. Regardless of the quality of the writing, that unfinished, handwritten epic is like a clingy boyfriend without a job. Your high school fiction wants you to stay home with it and play games or watch TV. It may want to sprawl out, but it doesn’t want to grow up–it has you to make it whole, and that’s all that matters.

In particular, the fiction you wrote in high school doesn’t want to go to college. If you take it to college anyway, you’ll end up writing and rewriting its first chapter. You won’t get much further than that. I guarantee it.

The high school novel marks one of the most intense, formative projects of a writer’s life, so it is hugely important, not as a narrative but as a lifesaving passage to artistic identity. But the passion that the writer places in pages written during the nightmare/dreamworld of her own coming of age invariably arrests her creativity down the road.

I wish I could remember what the bridging experience was for me, how I learned to abandon the art for the practice of it. These days I still find myself reluctantly enabling the high school novel in the college classroom, which is one of the reasons I find great relief during nanowrimo season,  a time of speed, sloppiness, and desperate experiment–all of which help tear at the bonds to the past.

I do tell my students there is a ban on work begun in high school. The ones who argue with me 1) never consider that such a ban is unenforceable, and 2) tend to be geniuses.  I just wanna shake ’em.



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