Letter to my younger writing self – Shari Lapena

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By Jade Craddock

In the latest in our Letter to my Younger Writing Self series, Shari Lapena explains just what she’d tell her younger self if she had the chance.

If I could write a letter to my younger writing self, I would tell myself to start earlier. I wanted to write novels from the time I was about 9 years old. I wanted to write pony books and Nancy Drew books. I thought the life of an author would be the best possible life. (I was right, as it turns out.) 

But as I got older I thought that writing wouldn’t be a very practical career. No one ever tells a young person – Become a novelist! The prospects are so bright for novelists! So I went to law school, and later, when I found that I didn’t much enjoy being a lawyer, I went back to school to become an English teacher.

I think many writers, especially in the beginning, feel that they have to give themselves permission to write. It seems so self-indulgent, after all. It takes years and years to become any good, and the prospect of any tangible return on all that effort is slight. You think you should be doing something more useful with your time. I was in my late thirties before I started writing seriously. So in this letter to my younger self, I would give myself permission to write. I would tell myself to start much earlier, because it takes a long time to learn the craft and become good at it.

In this letter to my younger writing self, I would give myself the following advice. There aren’t really any completely new stories. Everything’s been done many times. What makes a book unique is the author’s take on the story, the author’s unique voice and execution. So I would tell myself to write the stories that interest me, that excite me, and to approach them and write them in my own way.

I would tell myself to experiment and write the books that I want to write, to find my own voice, and to not be afraid to fail. I would tell myself that failure and rejection is part of the process. I would tell myself to persist, even when there doesn’t seem much point, because it would all be worth it. And the journey is interesting besides.

Being a professional novelist is by far the best job I have ever had. In fact, it’s not a job at all, but a calling. I’m thankful every day to be in a position where I can do what I love, earn a good living, travel the world, meet other writers, and interact with my readers. So in my letter to my younger self I would say: Go ahead! Become a novelist!

Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before writing fiction. Her debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, was a global bestseller. Her second thriller, A Stranger in the House, has been a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller. Her third book, An Unwanted Guest, is out in July 2018.


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