Just before I left to head back to school for Homecoming, I had dinner with my friend Anna. Anna and I both work in the publishing industry and also, by night/weekend/a few minutes at a time, are YA authors who are debuting next year. So you can imagine that Anna and I often have very interesting conversations. We also have sad conversations, and funny ones, and happy ones, and if-only ones, but they are all great conversations. I think we must have been talking about how we've been slacking off in terms of blogging, because I said to her, "I have a lot of things I want to blog about, but I can't or shouldn't blog about them." But Anna told me that I should blog about this. Words cannot express how excited I was to go back to W&M for Homecoming. I was LITERALLY shaking when I got off the plane in Richmond, I was so excited. I didn't even care that Groome needlessly made me wait for forty-five minutes before they drove me into town, or that it was $4 more for the ride than I remember it being. I pretty much did a running leap into my Little Little Little's arms when I saw her, and then again when I saw my Little Little, and then again when I saw my Big, and again when I saw Kevin, and Seth, and OT, and Rachel, and Vida, and Mike, and--well, you get the picture. I was pretty much the Hug Monster. It was like I couldn't get enough. Ridiculously happy is an understatement.
Being back at school was a very strange experience. It was sort of like being just slightly displaced out of time, because you had recently belonged there and everything, on first glance, seemed exactly as you had left it. Of course there was a lot of new construction and big buildings opening up, but there were a lot of small, unsettling things too--like the plastic things they've replaced the traditional table toppers with in the UC (and that fact that the younger kids call it the "Sadler Center" and not the UC, though they weren't there to experience the great Sam Sadler first hand). Also, my lovely little computer lab--the same one I wrote Brightly Woven in--was slightly redone to the point that they took out "my" computer and installed some weird conference table. And it's even weirder to hear people talk about exams and quizzes and this-or-that off campus house, and know that it's not your life anymore.
I loved my school, though I know I didn't have the best college experience by many people's standards. I really did go to school for school, because I loved going to class/writing papers/the triumph of the "A," and not because I wanted this amazing social life. I've said it once and I'll say it again: most of my free time was spent writing. I don't regret that I have a book coming out next March, but... I really wish I had spent more time with my friends.
Don't get me wrong: writing is what makes me happy (even if, at times, it also makes me want to stick my head in the over), but I feel like I denied myself these other, different happy times with my lovely ones because I didn't know how to balance my life and I didn't understand just how rare and special college is. While I was eating (Cheese Shop!!) lunch with my LL and LLL in Colonial Williamsburg, I kept looking at them and thinking, "I wish I had had one more year with you two." Which is a little ridiculous, because hey--I get the rest of my life with them! But I don't get my college years with them. And there is a difference.
Lately, I've been seeing more and more college and high school students want to be published while they're still in school. I get plenty of emails asking, "How did you do it?" and my heart stops for a moment. I just feel sad and worried for them, and I start to fret for them. It would be foolish of me to say that being published in college didn't give me some life advantage, at least financially, but there is far, FAR more to publishing than the earning $$$ side. It is NOT an exaggeration for me to say that some people thought I had graduated a semester early because they didn't see me for most of my second semester of senior year. Why? Because I was working on revisions for my publisher and I was killing myself to try to finish another book before the end of the school year ON TOP of final papers, reading, studying for finals, taking finals, projects, going to class. I was so pressed for time I was working on revisions while I was IN class and at 5 AM in the morning. Being published isn't like have a homework assignment: you have a deadline that you are legally required to meet, and you are responsible for being on your publisher's schedule, regardless of what your own assignment/exams schedule looks like. Maybe part of the problem was that I was at an academically challenging school and that my workload was insane compared to that of others... but I don't think I'm the exception.
I think what it comes down to for me is this: if you love writing, be a writer while you're in school, don't kill yourself to be an author. Soak up as much as you can, live your life and have fun, write when you can and seek out writing groups to help hone your craft. But remember--college is not forever. It is four amazing years in your life, the likes of which you will not see again. It might not be the BEST years of your life, but they're incredibly important, and you will, in the end, probably miss them when you're gone. And you can go back--to visit, for Homecoming, for class reunions--but you'll never get back the opportunities you missed because you were spending so much time with a computer screen, and not the amazing people of flesh and blood around you.