Writing Advice for Your Younger Self

Prompt Against Anxiety #14 | from writer E.J. Koh, author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House, 2020) and the poetry collection A Lesser Love (LSU Press, 2017). She tweets @thisisEJKoh and her website is here.


Mi Kyung Choi, 2015

. . . I would see over again that words can not only heal previous generations, they can reverse the trajectory of damage into future generations. Forgiveness is a word that sparked the bodies of the living and the dead—a word that changed damage across time—in my past, present, and future. To listen rather than speak or never burden and only let go. I promised to write toward love.

[. . .]

I recalled my work in critique, which practices reading with suspicion, and I noticed its damage. I wanted to read as I lived, and that was gently. Instead of me reading the book, the book was allowing itself to be read by me. Reading a book, do not seek to be a force acting upon it. Let the book be a force acting upon you. This is how books are loved.

I loved books again instead of trying to save them. I no longer asked them to be enough for me. I spirited myself toward a new possibility. If critique is a knife, it must gently pare back the rind to reveal a thing both beautiful and alive. To see harm done is no great skill. To experience light where unseen is.

–E.J. Koh, from  "Writing Advice for My Younger Self"

The Prompt

Referring to my essay, "Writing Advice for My Younger Self," start by writing a letter to your younger self at the age that comes to mind. Welcome them as you would welcome a beloved guest. They might ask you questions, and a long dialogue may occur. Then make room for change. You might use sections as I have done in the essay. I would try not to limit the exercise to a certain form or look for an answer. Go on gently and kindly. Let the writing happen on its own as a result of taking this moment to be with your younger self, who has traveled a vast distance over the span of human history to be with you. 

Prompts Against Anxiety is sponsored by Milwaukee Public Library, an anchor institution that helps patrons read, learn, and connect—to our resources and our community. Now more than ever, stay connected, stay home, and stay safe. 

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