To Dad, From Kelly began with a single letter I wrote to my father in fall 2011, one year after he died. The words in that letter are the most important I’ve put on paper. With my memoir published, I decided to write another letter to reflect on my three-year writing journey. The twist: I’ve addressed this one to the 2011 version of me. As today is the 4th anniversary of Dad’s death, I’ve decided to share that letter.
You’re pale. And plump in the midsection. You love writing because it makes you see the world more imaginatively. You think that writing makes you a more caring person.
Just wait. In three years, after hours spent writing in your basement, snow will have more color than your skin. And that slight bulge will become a noticeable belly. It’s OK, writing will have become more fun and important than exercising. Still, avoid the once-a-week 2,000-calorie Taco Bell orders when you can.
Soon, you won’t just love writing. You’ll need it. The creative release will sustain you. Writing will transform you into a deeper, more invested person. Writing will offer you an outlet for the emotions you cannot otherwise form.
Around a year after your dad’s death, a friend will ask you to write a letter to him. The decision to write it will launch the most harrowing, rewarding, and introspective journey of your life. Buckle up because the ride ain’t easy.
You think you can write well. You can’t. But you’ll improve.
You think you’ve cried before. You haven’t. Noah’s Ark might capsize in the torrent of tears you’re about to shed.
You think you understand hard work. You don’t. But you will.
On most mornings you’ll feel exhausted as you stare into a blank computer screen, its flashing cursor seeming like a giant middle finger flicking up and down—taunting—howling that you don’t have the heart to finish. Words will flee. Paragraphs will evaporate. “Why the fuck can’t I write?” You’ll wail. But fight. Listen to your dad’s voice and force yourself into the dark hurt of hearing him speak. Slice the scars protecting your deepest wounds and stitch yourself together by unleashing raw fury into the writing.
You’ll eviscerate you’re mind, body, and spirit. But you’ll survive. And heal.
Don’t fight your changing music tastes. From folk and bluegrass to soul, gospel, and even Negro Spirituals—all forms will carry a tune you need to hear.
And don’t fret when you spend the last 6 months of writing listening to only Jodeci and 2Pac. The journey, in all its forms, will be unexpected.
You’re impatient so you think you need to finish the manuscript now. When your bosses ask you to finish the work for which they are paying you, remember this: They are not sabotaging you’re writing career. Quit complaining and do the work.
That 3rd draft you finish and declare the publish-ready manuscript is shit. Friends and family will be supportive, but you can (and will) do better.
The open mic night you believe you’re attending on a random Tuesday evening in May 2013 isn’t actually an open mic night. The community theater hangout that you stumble into will cascade into a leading role in a play you are unqualified to act in, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing over the next 4 weeks will become some of the most rewarding moments of your adult life.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Most are better. Steal from them. Learn from them. Be as good as you can be.
Believe in the value of your story. It’s the only one that nobody can replicate.
A fall Friday will arrive when you are weary from work and writing. Get off your ass, grab The Power of One, stuff a notebook and pen into your pocket, and sit in the corner of an old world bar sipping IPAs and eating stuffed cabbage.
Your life is about to change.
When a spirited, dark-haired girl sits on the barstool to your left, announces (loudly) to the bartenders that she’s searching for a mid-century modern couch, and orders a glass of red wine, don’t wait 60 minutes to introduce yourself. She’s the one.
Love strikes unexpectedly – especially for those who spend their Fridays reading, writing, eating, and drinking by themselves at bars.
Never confuse being alone with being lonely.
You’ll read this quote from Neil Gaiman about writing: “The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
Print the quote and stuff it in your pocket. You’ll need the words to persevere through the gut punches of honest emotion you are writing.
The stories you write will cause your family pain. The writing is too truthful. Appreciate their sorrow, but continue on your journey.
As you write, you’ll want more from your father. More time. More conversations. Answers. You’ll be frustrated, angry at missed opportunities. And that’s OK. Because when the final period is typed, you’ll be thankful for every crooked grin, bit of sarcasm, and wisdom he shared.
Three years from now everything will be worth it. The scribbled-in moleskins. The writer’s block. The smashed computer parts. The edits. The Red ink. The Revisions. The underlined books full of margin notes. The reflection, introspection, and desperation. When you finally hold To Dad, From Kelly in your hands, everything will be worth it.
Good luck my friend,