Monday, February 28, 2011

An Open Letter on Discovering Self

With permission, I'm posting a correspondence between a teen reader and myself. I think the things she asks about are very, very common questions, regardless of whether you are sixteen, nineteen, twenty-seven, or sixty. Or somewhere in-between, because oddly enough those aren't the only ages where self-identity is a question. Also, this is one of the only emails I've answered in over a month. So if you've written and haven't gotten a response, you will. Soon. Soonish. As soon as I either finish Para3 or it finally succeeds in killing me, in which case I will come back from the grave just to respond to your emails--see how devoted I am?

Hi, Mrs. White! 

I love your book.  I don't normally write fan letters/emails; actually, this is my first one ever, but I just wanted to tell you that I think that Paranormalcy is fantastic and that I am definitely going to buy Supernaturally.

I have three older brothers, and the eldest asked me not that long ago why I still read YA books since I'm 19 now and in college.  I don't really have that much responsibility yet, and I'm still maturing just like those characters, unlike what I think of for adult novels...But even more so than that, it's that books like yours are amazing and funny in a light-hearted way that's more suited to me.  You are also really funny, and I love reading your blog.

Which brings me to a different issue.  I admire the way you seem to really know yourself, and I remember a post you made on a Taylor Swift song - the one you thought that she was saying that she loves herself?  I remember it because you advocated for girls to have more self-confidence... and I guess my question, though it's super generic and maybe not even answerable, is how do you go about doing that?  Because you sound so sure of yourself, and having three older brothers has destroyed my sense of self in so many different ways.  Sorry, this is really heavy for a fan letter, I guess, but you just seemed like somebody I could ask.  And I hope that even if this question is unanswerable and something I need to figure out for myself, you know that you're a wonderful role model.  Thanks for all your words and for the enjoyment I've taken from your novel, blog, and writing.  And thank you if you've read this too.  Have a wonderful day,
--A Reader

Dear Reader,

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond! Besides being hard at work on the third Paranormalcy book, I've also really been thinking a lot about your letter and how to answer. Because, like you said, it's a tough issue. Mostly because it's like how I feel when people ask me for advice about writing--everyone has to find what works for them, and what worked for me might not be what works for someone else, nor should it be.

(Also, I seriously wanted to just hug you after that email.)

I think most people make it out of their teens wondering who they are and who they want to be. But that's the great thing about where you are now, right now, is that you get to decide! You're in college, which means you're not in that same pool of high school where everyone knows everyone. I found when I got to college it felt like my whole world opened up since no one knew me anymore or had any ideas about who I "should" be. Follow your passions. Explore things that aren't your passions but that maybe you've always wondered about. Don't be afraid to do things you're "bad" at--art, writing, dance, whatever--because maybe you'll find a new way of expressing yourself that you'd never had access to before. Surround yourself with people who like you and let you know, and people who have a positive outlook on life. Surround yourself with people who remind you of who you'd like to be.

Aside from finding new ways to discover yourself and look inward, don't forget to look outward. I find that when I can get out there and help and serve other people who truly need it, even though I'm not technically doing anything for myself I come away happier and lighter and feeling like I'm closer to who I want to be. I worry less about what I see as my flaws--because I have plenty of them--and just enjoy what I have.

This is kind of a random note, but I'd also say try to spend as little time as you can online with things like facebook. (Except my blog. Keep reading that.) (Just kidding.) It's too easy to get sucked into this black hole where you feel like you're connecting with people but really it's just words on a screen, words that can make you feel so alone and so much less than everyone around you. It's not true; it's just the dang internet. Get outside. Hang out with people who make you laugh. Remember that just because someone can write something on a screen does not make it true.

Example: I am 5'7"! I am 5'7"! I have long, willowy legs and dance with the grace of a thousand baby unicorns.

Nope, still not true.

In the end, like anything else, it's a work in progress. Some days I know exactly who I am now and who I want to be and how to get there. Some days I don't quite like myself, but I try to take those days and turn them into something positive--look at why I am feeling that way and how I can improve the next day. Sometimes it's as simple as taking those negative thoughts and feelings and saying, "I know that I feel that way, but I don't care. I'm not going to let myself think that way anymore because I deserve to be happy. I'm going to do the following things to help myself get onto a better path of thinking..." It helps to have a specific plan, but that's going to different for everyone.

You do deserve to be happy, and I hope you know that. And it's okay if you don't know exactly who you are right now, because that's changing every day--and it should be. Now is the time to accept and love who you are and plan for and work toward who you want to be. And if you aren't exactly sure who you want to be yet, that's okay, too, as long as you decide what you want to be. The answer to that should be: Happy and fulfilled and loved. Start by loving yourself and the others fall into place very quickly.

I hope this was helpful. Not quite as good as a hug, but as close as I can get without being creepy since we don't actually know each other. I am sending you my best wishes!



daisy Whitney said...


Janet Johnson said...

What a great post! I'm so glad the writer let you share her letter. I wanted to hug her, too.

True confidence is a rare commodity, and I agree with all you had to say about it . . . especially the loving yourself and looking outward to help others.

Great post!

Lakien said...

In the end, like anything else, it's a work in progress. Some days I know exactly who I am now and who I want to be and how to get there. Some days I don't quite like myself, but I try to take those days and turn them into something positive
This. Some days I feel like the worst person alive and have no idea of what to do with my life.

Thanks for sharing that with all of us!

Anna Gailey said...

Good gravy! This post gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies. I have actually been avoiding your blog (as I am only halfway through Paranormalcy and don't want to read any spoilers) but I'm really glad I tuned in for this post.

What a fantastic piece of advice. As an (almost) 23 year old who still walks immediately to the YA section when I go into a bookstore and hugs the Meg Cabot shelf, I completely understand where the writer is coming from. Not only that, but I still have no idea what I'm doing with my life. This post was just so inspiring (if it weren't for the dang internet being all shiny I'd probably be further in my own writing). Thank you Kiersten for responding.

C. N. Nevets said...

I'm thirty-mumble and I still don't quite know who I am or what I want to be. I hope your reader took your message to heart because I think one of the most-important things you tried to convey is that you be confident and comfortable in your uncertainty.

patti.mallett_pp said...

This is quite an amazing post, Kiersten. From this alone I want to read one of your books. (I have never read paranormal, well, except (1 1/2) Twilight books under pressure from my daughter. Any author that has this kind of wisdom, I want to read!! (And, I also must say that I wish someone had written me this "letter" when I was 19!!!)

Raejean said...

I'm in my 40's and still struggle with way too many of those issues. I love your advise about making real connections instead of just electronic ones on Facebook and the like. I'd also like to add to make sure those real connections are with people who are good for you and have your best interest at heart.

Thanks for sharing the letter and the response.

Red Boot Pearl said...

I love this. The great thing about not knowing who you are is that you can become whoever you want to be. Self discovery is so important.

I think we get too trapped in other people's perceptions, that it's hard to break out and really find out who you are. College is such a great place to break out of what people expect/think of you.

Good luck reader! And YA is for anyone...I'm not into 'adult' books--YA is so much more fun.

Keriann Greaney Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Kiersten, you are awesome. Thank you for this post. I don't think anyone could read that a NOT feel better about themselves. Including me :).

BTW, I finished Paranormalcy this past weekend and it was AWESOME too!

Kristan said...

A letter like that... is worth everything in the world.

Your response was similarly priceless. How very kind, thoughtful, and honest of you.

You can't give her the answers -- like you said, the process is too individualized -- but I think you pointed her in the right direction.

For what it's worth, if she's reading this, years 17-21 were the worst for me. But also the best. Give it time, and look for the good. You'll come out the other side.

Melissa Down Under said...

Pearls of wisdom!

As others have said, we all go through these phases of self uncertainty in all stages of life. As long as we reflect and re-evaluate ourselves regularly, we will always come out better on the other side of it.

Tracey Neithercott said...

What wonderful letters--both of them. What you said, Kiersten, is so true. I'm not sure we'll ever know for sure who we are. We'll never fully love ourselves as is. That's both a good thing and bad.

"Some days I know exactly who I am now and who I want to be and how to get there. Some days I don't quite like myself..." <-- Yes, so so true.

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

Aww...Kiersten, you (and that fan letter) just turned me into a heaping puddle of hugs and hopefulness. I'm in a seriously chipper mood now. Lol.

A Journey in Reading said...

What a wonderful post!

These feelings happen in everyone's life no matter their age. Whether is be middle school, high school, college, or many years down the road when the children are grown and moving away from home for good. And your words to this teen really resonate with all ages.

The fact that you took the time in answering this email with such thought shows the type of person that you are.

Just by reading your words, it is very apparent that you are truly an amazing lady.

Eleven Eleven said...

Another batch of amazing insight, Kiersten. I completely agree, and empathize with both you and the reader, because, like most people, I spend time on both sides of the fence.

For me, it helps to focus on who I want to be, and doing even a small thing in that direction. I just have to remember it's really about the journey, and while journeys are made up of a bazillion baby steps, today I only need to take one.

Anita Saxena said...

I didn't know who I wanted to be until I was 24. I'm 31 and still working at it. But it's ok because the journey makes me happy. Great post today Kiersten.

Michelle Wolfson said...

Oh reader, I want to give you a hug too.

Just from the fact that you picked someone as wonderful as Kiersten--and I do know Kiersten--based on her writing both in her books and on her blog, I'm guessing you have a lot of common sense and a good head on your shoulders. I say trust yourself and give yourself time. And keep following Kiersten's awesome words of wisdom. We're all rooting for you.

Kiersten, you continue to rock.

jackie b central texas said...

What a truly touching letter from both the reader and your response to her as well! With that said you both need chocolate, it helps define us as women some days... If it did not we would not see a fat person in the mirror even when a thin person stands there looking at themselves!

A true sense of self is priceless, some days we have it and some days we do not and yes that only comes with getting out there with those people who validate us as worthwhile people..
Good point as most teens, and people of any age really, seem to take it for granted that when one person treats them negatively that is what seems to be taken to heart and it is hard to get past and see ourselves as anything else...

Sierra Gardner said...

Really great thoughts on this post! I know for me I have to give myself permission to excel and to recognize success when I see it. Sometimes we are pushed so hard to want more, be more, and have more that we don't ever take the time to be impressed with ourselves. I have to step back and let myself appreciate all the really great things about myself and recognize that it's good to do it.

Amber said...

So eloquent.

I'd like to add that even though I'm only still in college myself, I think that sometimes WHO we are is too big of a definition, but there are things that define us, and nothing can change those things except for us... things like: favourite food, sense of humour, the types of things we hang on our walls, what we do in our free time, who we would take a bullet for. The little things that to some people may seen trivial when listed individually, but as a whole make up a sense of self.

And I'm with Jackie on the chocolate. :-)

africa2asia said...

That was seriously nice; chocolate-chips-on-a-chocolate-cupcake nice. You are obviously busy and to take the time to respond to someone who looks up to you is great. Good job!

Sheepa said...

"Surround yourself with people who remind you of who you'd like to be." Ah! So true!!
Sometimes it can be hard finding those great friends, but when you do, and you feel it deep in your gut that they want the best for themselves (because they are sane) and you, hold onto them forever ;)