I see you worrying endlessly about your future, and I just wanted to write you a letter and reassure you that fifteen years from now you will still worry endlessly. But you will be worrying about the writing, rather than about being a writer.
At the moment, you are worrying that you are not as good as the other people in your MFA program. True, most of them have more writing experience. And yes, some are more talented than you. Some will be more successful than you. Sometimes success will not equate with talent. Life isn't fair, which is as hard to take now as it was when you were five and your brother got the bigger cookie. But I promise you that you are not the worst writer among them either. And, fifteen years later, half of them will have retired their proverbial pens while you're still scribbling away. (And no, they did not let you in because they felt sorry for you for being overweight. They liked your work).
In two years, you will worry about getting a job. It won't be easy, and you won't get the job you hope you'll get, but you'll get a job as an architect's assistant and an SAT tutor, and a nanny, and a sandwich board-wearer, and a freelance writer, and a webmaster (though you will still have no computer skills) and eventually as an adjunct at a college, and you'll feed and house yourself. And through it all, you'll still be writing.
You'll be very upset when your agent is unable to place your first novel, but try not to be devastated. When you read it ten years later it will seem "cute" at best, and, more accurately, "slight." You'll be glad you didn't publish it. Mostly. It's not a waste: you'll pretend for several years that you're turning it into a screenplay.
You will and should rejoice when your short story collection is published by an independent press. No, they did not pick your collection because they felt sorry for you for being overweight. They liked your work. And they will help you edit it, and edit it again, and tell you when it needs another edit. And then they will support you to their utmost (emotionally, if not financially, because, after all, they are an indie press). They will tell you politely when your promotional ideas are ludicrous ("I'm not sure your money would be well-spent, Allison, by renting a blimp
"), and they will hustle the hell out of that beautifully-designed book. With French flaps! (You'll learn that's what those paperbacks with long covers folded inwards are called.) You will appear in the local paper and your parents will be proud, even though your book has a lot of weird sex in it which makes them worry about you.
Do not give up when your second novel fails to sell, though you will be sorely tempted to apply to law school. Try to convince yourself that the world is not ready for your genius. Determine that you will sell it yourself when your agent gives up. Try not to be jealous of your peers who are more successful than you. Jealousy is a waste of an emotion, empty calories, like cotton candy, which you should not eat. You hate conflict
law school is not a good idea.
Rewrite the book. Do not be afraid to throw away 200, 400, 600 pages (though, and mark this well: do not attempt to burn them in the fireplace. They will smoke, not burn, and cause the fire alarm to sound, and the fire department will come and you will have to stand there in your flannel pyjamas and explain why the dual setting simply wasn't working and you were jettisoning the entire second protagonist). This is part of the process. If you have to, tell yourself you'll turn those pages into a screenplay someday.
Send it to every contest. Send to every small publisher and press. When the wonderful editor who champions your novel to his university press contracts stomach cancer and dies, do not think of it as a sign from the universe. Instead rewrite it again.
Along the way, sustain yourself with conferences and colonies, who have chosen you because they like your work, not because they feel sorry for you. Rejoice when a university press agrees to publish it. They will produce a beautiful book that will be in print as long as the university press exists. Know that out of the 500 people who read the book, at least a third of them are not related to you.
Do not be sad when the large prize for Jewish Literature you were nominated for goes to someone else. It was not because you are overweight; they liked someone else's work better. And after all you got a free kosher dinner, which is "better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick" as your grandmother used to say. Start using this phrase more often, as it makes you feel better about almost everything.
Do not look at sales numbers. Do not compare yourself to those successful friends. For goodness sake, get the hell off the ratings page on Amazon, and don't you dare look at Goodreads.
Focus on the work. Read a lot. Write a lot. Your process is your process. Keep writing until you get to the end. Maybe get some therapy.
Because you will eventually actually get paid for your third novel, and you will find a permanent teaching job. You will still be worrying, but suddenly you'll be worrying about the work, about its quality and what you're trying to say, and the ways in which you can talk to the reader through its pages, and where this book might fit within a body of work that you are suddenly sure you will produce. Because, though you still worry, you no longer have to worry about being a writer. You are a writer. You always have been. And you will wish you had enjoyed the journey more, had been ecstatic for that first book rather than dwelling on what it was not, had been honored just to be nominated for the Jewish book award (and why did you want a permanent teaching job so much?).
Pat yourself on the back for sticking with it, for producing the best work you could, for being true to your process and your timeline. Because when you look back at your fifteen-year-younger self you will wonder why you worried so much, why you were in such a hurry, and why the writer's life seemed more important than the writing. Oh, and also, you were actually pretty thin back then.