The One with the Further Explanation
You may remember this post I did a while back about writing while in college. I've noticed, over the past few months, that people have been responding to it (though they never link back to my original post--if you have an opinion, stand up for it and for yourself). I knew going into it that the post was probably going to be torn apart and ripped to shreds by the same set that it was addressed to, but I still stand by what I was saying then. I just feel like I need to elaborate. My opinion on this changes all the time depending on how "homesick" I feel for college at the time. But I just want to clarify that I would never, never, NEVER discourage anyone from writing at any age. The only reason I was able to publish was because I began writing at an early age and haven't stopped since. What it comes down to is really this: if you know in your heart that what you want to be is a writer, then you will always find the time to write. There is never going to be a "the best time" to write in your life, though you arguably have a lot of free time to write while you're in college--once you graduate you're hit with a whole new set of concerns. Grades, exams, life decisions fade into finding a job, paying for groceries and rent, and even harder life decisions. Writing will always entail some kind of sacrifice, because it can be a very lonely, emotional, stressful profession. But you should never regret that you didn't start writing early, or that you weren't published at a "young" age. There is no expiration date. You have not failed if you were not published in your teens, your twenties, or your thirties. If publishing is meant to happen for you, it will--everyone just needs to get there on their own time, when they're ready. All of these life experiences have, or will, play into developing your view of the world and your writing voice. You have not "wasted" time not writing, not under any circumstances.
I know that the original post comes across as very negative--it was never my intention to discourage anyone. But at the same time, I think it would be incredibly unfair of me to sugar coat my publication experience for you. And that's exactly what I was sharing--my experience. My experience with being published while in school included the following: eating most of my meals by myself or getting them to go so I could make revision deadlines, trying to balance extracurriculars and a horrible reading load with writing, staying up until 4 or 5 AM, getting four styes on my right eye from stress:
... I think you get the picture. That's not to say that the hard work isn't worth it, but realize that being published does involve sacrifice. And being published in college is NOT a guarantee that you can come out of college with the ability to support yourself on your writing alone, regardless of the first advance you get. Write because you love it and when you feel ready--when you feel that your writing is also ready--then seek out publication. But please, please, PLEASE do not feel like you have somehow failed if you do not land an agent by the time you're eighteen, or if your book isn't on the shelf by the time you're twenty-five. It happens for all of us at different times and for different reasons, and no one's experience is more valid than anyone else's. Life is all about balance, and it's very easy to become obsessed with the idea of being published or miss out on life because you want to spend every free moment you have writing.
I'm very, very, very hard on myself. If you couldn't tell from the other post, I feel a sense of failure that I wasn't more social (in the "traditional" sense) in school, and that I didn't walk out of there with five thousand best friends. But also know that part of the reason I cut a lot of "traditional" social activities out of my life was because I was busy balancing a zillion other things: double majoring in reading-intensive subjects, student government, a sorority, yearbook, being an RA, interning my senior year, volunteering, etc. Not everyone is going to be like Scary Overachiever Alex, not everyone will feel the same intense, perfectionist desire that I did to succeed (and really succeed). That was my experience, and I want nothing but to be completely honest with you about it. A large part of the reason I originally posted the first post was to say that I wish I hadn't been so hard on myself, and that I wish others wouldn't be so hard on themselves because we live in a society where it's no longer enough to succeed--you have to super-succeed. I managed, I spent most of my four years very happy, but OF COURSE I still wish I could have had my cake and eaten it, too.
Publishing is a commitment, and if you really want it, you WILL get there, but don't lose sight of your life and having fun in the process. :)
And for those of you who think that I'm unhappy or miserable because I'm published, or that I'm an ungrateful wretch when it comes to the opportunities I've been blessed with--this IS the extent of my negativity on the subject. I don't post about how happy, amazed, or proud of myself I am for doing it because it's not really in my personality to do so. I love being a writer, I have hopes to one day be in the position to write full time, but I also need to manage my expectations. This is all part of the great wheel of ups and downs that come with being published. Some days you love it passionately and you're sure you'll never love anything more, others you want to stick a pen through your eye.