Birthday Reflections

25 May

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Today I turn 21 years old.

18 is nice, but in the United States, 21 marks the age when you’re really considered a grown-up. When you’re 21 you can go anywhere uninhibited, and your driver’s license transforms into a free pass to all those ‘adult’ places you’ve never been before.

For me, 21 also marks the end of an era. It splices my life in two; the time before and after technical adulthood. Am I still a relatively young writer? Yes. But at 21 I feel as if I’ve moved beyond the age where my accomplishments are impressive.

When I was younger I swore I would be published while I was still a teenager. To me, attaining that goal would prove something about me; that I was more talented, smarter, better prepared, and most importantly, a better writer than those older than me.

I’d always been on the forefront of accomplishments for my age group: I walked at 9 months old, spoke in complete sentences before age 2, and finished my first book at sixteen. I had a worshipful following on Fictionpress. In school I was always taller, faster, sharper, and got better grades on my essays than most everyone around me. It was only natural that I would get an agent and be published before 20.

I am now ashamed of this arrogance. My self-worth was defined by my accomplishments, not my kindness, compassion, or loyalty. My arrogance blinded me, and I did not realize that my manuscript was barely ready for an agent. In my ignorance I didn’t know that publishing takes years of hard work and endurance. When I finally signed with my agent at 19 I was forced to confront the fact that I would NOT be published before 20. I would not be a prodigy teen writer.

When I tell people how old I am, they are always amazed, because I appear so much older. I have a great job as an HR Manager, I own a house, I have an agent, and until recently I was engaged to be married. I used my age as a tool to instantly make people impressed, to make me feel good about myself. But I feel that as I get older this tool becomes less effective. One day I’ll be just another grown woman with a list of accomplishments under her belt, no different from anyone else.

As I got closer to my birthday I had to confront the fact that soon it wouldn’t be good enough that I’ve merely written 5 novels. I’ll have to have written 5 GREAT novels. I’ll have to prove that I’m an excellent reviser, that I can work on deadline, that I can appeal to the masses and successfully promote my books. And my age won’t have a thing to do with all that.

Am I a good friend? Am I a good girlfriend/fiancé/wife? Do I do the right thing, even though it’s hard? Do I work even though I want to be lazy? Do I keep a positive outlook even though I want to curl into a ball and despair?

These are the things that are important now, not a list of checkmarks with an age attached to it. Quality, not quantity, is what I need to be concerned with.

Being here at Let The Words Flow has taught me so much about publishing and writing, but it’s also taught me something more important than facts and technique: humility. In this group, I’m not the only one who started writing young. I’m not the first to get an agent, or a publishing deal. And in the face of losing the trinkets I clutched to me to prove my worth, I had to realize the truth: I am valuable for more than my ‘accomplishments’ at my young age. I am valuable as a person, and a friend; for what is inside my heart and not always what I do with my hands.

LTWF has also taught me that we all have different stages of ‘ready.’ Some people are ready at 16 to be published. Some people at 20, others at 40, and still others at 80. Life works out when it’s right for you, and age doesn’t have any effect on your value.

I’ve learned so much, and I know that there is so much more to discover. I will only get better with time. 21 does not represent a closed door, but just another milestone. And today I’m going to celebrate making it this far, and be glad to enter into a world where finally everything is possible. The journey has only just begun.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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31 Responses to “Birthday Reflections”

  1. Kat Zhang May 25, 2010 at 7:58 AM #

    As another Not-Gonna-Be-Teen-Author, I understand where you’re coming from. It’s a funny thing to realize that sometime, when you weren’t looking, you became an adult. I’m really happy that you’ve realized you are more valuable than your accomplishments (though I must say, you have some pretty awesome accomplishments), because you SO are. Happy birthday, Savannah! 😀

  2. Julie Eshbaugh May 25, 2010 at 8:34 AM #

    Savannah you are such an incredible young woman! There is so much I want to say to you after reading this post, but you have said it all yourself right here. Happy birthday to a (young) writer I am very proud to know. 🙂

  3. Rowenna May 25, 2010 at 8:36 AM #

    Savannah–fabulous, honest post. Really–your honest is so commendable and I know I appreciate that you don’t bandy about with how you feel but hit us up what you’re really thinking.

    A dear friend of mine who is very, very beautiful recently confided in me that she felt she had been pigeonholed–everyone around her complimented her looks so much that she wanted to scream, ‘But am I kind? Am I a good person?” You hit that square in the face–our accomplisments and talents may be important, but we need to remember–and be told!–that we’re valuable for who we are, not what we do.

    Happy birthday and all best!

    • Savannah J. Foley May 25, 2010 at 9:02 AM #

      Thank you Rowenna! Being honest is scary, but also empowering. It feels good to publicly own how I feel 🙂

  4. Vanessa May 25, 2010 at 9:16 AM #

    Savannah, this was a great post! I love how honest and open you always are. Quality, not quantity, is definitely right! What is great about being a writer and being able to look back on your old work and realize that it could be better is a sign that you’ve grown – not by age, but as a writer.

    And Happy Birthday Sav! You’re still young ; you have an incredible writing career ahead of you!

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 11:11 AM #

      Thanks Vanessa!

  5. Di W. May 25, 2010 at 9:36 AM #

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAVANNAH!!
    This is your best post yet– probably because it struck a nerve with me (so what if I’m biased? Haha! 😛 ). Like you, I was…sort of a prodigious child.
    And like you, it made me somewhat arrogant, even develop a sense of entitlement. So when I missed the Teen-Author window, it hit me hard. But after the initial despairing, it made me take a good look at myself, as a person.
    Am I only as valuable as my list of achievements?
    It took me a long while to grapple with the idea that my self-worth was not tied to my accomplishments.
    I have to admit I still struggle with it.
    So, thank you for this post. Thank you for showing me that I am not alone; thank you for those wise words, and thank you for being so open and honest.
    You rock.

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 11:12 AM #

      I’m glad you can empathize! Being honest is hard, but I think it’s really worth it. And thanks for the birthday wishes; best of luck to you!

  6. Cristina Guarino May 25, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

    Happy Birthday Savannah!!! I’m so proud of you for this post!

    It’s too bad I and the other LTWF girls can’t be there with you to celebrate your 21st. Maybe one day, though, right? 😉

    This post really helped me a lot too–I sort of feel down on myself for being so behind on my goals, but reading this helped me ease up on myself a bit.

    Have a great birthday!! ❤

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 11:12 AM #

      Aww, I wish you guys could all be here, but everyone has been so helpful and loving over the internet it’s almost the same thing. We all need to meet up one day. ^^

  7. LePipette May 25, 2010 at 2:06 PM #

    I know very much where you’re coming from with this. : )

    I just went through the same realization over the past year. But for me, it wasn’t a birthday that switched my perspective – it was going to University and realizing how much was out there that I couldn’t possibly grasp. Yet.

    I stopped trying to feel accomplished, and started feeling fascinated. Being a student is a much freer state of mind than feeling like you have to know/do/accomplish everything, particularly before your peers. And it’s so much more worthwhile.

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

      I once heard that a wise man knows that he knows nothing. I try to keep this outlook as much as possible, but I fail sometimes. I love what you said about a freer state of mind, and I agree completely. Being open to wonder and curiosity is so much better than trying to be right all the time.

  8. Samantha W May 25, 2010 at 2:30 PM #

    I hear grown-ups call the selves adults. 😉

    Happy birthday! ^______________^

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

      Lol I’m still figuring out the rules as I go I guess!

  9. Lua May 25, 2010 at 3:16 PM #

    Happy Birthday Savannah!!
    I just turned 24 a month ago and I was going through the same thing! All I could think about was “Oh My God! I’m a dinosaur and I’m not published, the world is going to come to an end!”
    But you are %100 right, “Life works out when it’s right for you, and age doesn’t have any effect on your value.”
    Happy birthday once again and I wish all the best for you 🙂

    • svonnah May 25, 2010 at 4:22 PM #

      Thank you Lua!

  10. Angela May 25, 2010 at 4:39 PM #

    Happy Birthday!!! =D

    I`m actually amazed at what you`ve still managed to do at 21. Where I live, it`s impossible for someone to have a good job, a home, and a company at that age.

    You`re one of the most successful women I know. ❤

  11. Praya May 25, 2010 at 6:20 PM #

    Happy birthday Savannah! Hope you have a wonderful day 🙂

    And thank you for such an honest post. It’s something I needed to hear. While I didn’t have the dream of being published as a teenager, every so often I have a stupid stress attack because I’m twenty and I haven’t achieved every single thing I want. Haha even writing that out I can see it’s ridiculous. While it’s important to have something to aspire to, it’s also important to let yourself fail, and grow. (And fail better? Lol). And you’re right- I guess it’s important to remember it’s who you are, not what you are.

    I really am so grateful to all of you at LTWF. You’ve set up a fantastic blog, boldly going where no blogger has gone before! 😉

    Happy birthday again Savannah!

    • Savannah J. Foley May 26, 2010 at 9:11 AM #

      Ugh, I had that stress when I was 15!!! I think when we’re growing up people tell us that time is running out so we’d better enjoy life, and I really took that to heart and was terrified of not getting it all done!

      And thanks for the ‘failing better’ bump, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have caught on elsewhere, lol.

  12. Judy May 25, 2010 at 10:16 PM #

    Happy birthday!
    I thought your post was particularly insightful and shows a lot of maturity as well as self-reflection. 🙂
    Hope you have a wonderful birthday.

  13. Myra May 25, 2010 at 11:03 PM #

    Quality before quantity… I think that’s something we need to tell ourselves a little more often. This post is great–so open and honest. 🙂

    And–happy birthday! Hope it was a fun.

    • Savannah J. Foley May 26, 2010 at 9:12 AM #

      Thank you Myra! I’m gald you appreciate my honesty; it was a little hard to get out.

  14. Biljana May 26, 2010 at 12:30 AM #

    A beautiful and moving post. So much truth :’)

    Happy birthday again, even though it’s past midnight in Toronto. But you gotta love the time difference :).

    • Savannah J. Foley May 26, 2010 at 9:13 AM #

      That’s okay, we can keep partying into the 26th 😉

  15. Vee May 26, 2010 at 5:09 AM #

    Sav, you rock. AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

    There is so much truth in this post. SO MUCH. I think a lot of writers who begin early go through this (including me :D). My writer friends and I tend to call it super special snowflake syndrome. Thank you for the honesty, this definitely struck a chord with me.

    • Savannah J. Foley May 26, 2010 at 9:14 AM #

      Aww, I love that term! “I am a unique snowflake!”

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