Dear Teen Me from author Robin Herrera (HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL)

Robin at 14. She told the photographers that she was talking during the photo, and they didn’t believe her. Who looks stupid now, jerks?

Robin at 14. She told the photographers that she was talking during the photo, and they didn’t believe her. Who looks stupid now, jerks?

Dear Robin (age 16),

It’s time to give up the dream.

When you go home today, there will be a letter in the mailbox from the California State Summer School for the Arts (aka CSSSA aka Innerspark). It won’t be a large envelope stuffed with congratulations and a welcome packet like the one you got a few days ago, accepting you into the theater program. It will be a tiny letter of rejection.

That’s right. You will not get into the animation program.

If it makes you feel better, you can blame this on the fact that you sent them a stop-motion animation instead of a flipbook animation, which was explicitly stated in the rules and which you still managed to miss. But even if you’d followed the rules, you still would have been rejected.

ROBIN. YOU ARE NOT THAT GREAT AT DRAWING, GIRL.

So yes, it’s time to give up the dream of being an animator. All you ever draw are people, anyway! Animators kind of need to know how to draw everything. And you do not!

Drawn around age 13. Yup, the one on the right has fire hair.

Drawn around age 13. Yup, the one on the right has fire hair.

Don’t spend money on expensive markers, and don’t submit your work to any more schools or contests. The judges have spoken, and they don’t want you!

But before you open that letter, I want you to know that you are only giving up a dream.

You are not giving up the dream. The dream is this: becoming an author.

Top, Evil Queen Nine. Bottom left, Murdering Princess Seven. Bottom right, Half-fairy, Half-human Crest. Drawn around age 15/16.

Top, Evil Queen Nine. Bottom left, Murdering Princess Seven. Bottom right, Half-fairy, Half-human Crest. Drawn around age 15/16.

It seems silly to you now, I know, but hey: didn’t Ms. Turner tell you that you should consider writing professionally after you turned in that personal essay? Ms. Turner is super smart, Robin. She speaks Latin fluently and could best Stephen Colbert at Lord of the Rings Trivia. And she’s an English teacher, so she knows what she’s talking about!

You still don’t believe me. You want to draw, dammit!

Well, here’s the great thing: you still can.

You’re terrible at art, yes, and you’ll never make money doing it, although you’ll come close once. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop, by any means! In fact, I INSIST that you continue!

Keep buying sketchbooks and filling them with terrible drawings. Because, ten years from now, even though you’ll cringe as you flip your way through your old sketchbooks, you’ll remember the joy you felt when you drew.

And you’ll remember the stories behind the drawings.

Not like, “I was at Pizza Hut when I drew that! I can tell by the grease stain. Good times!” But like, “Oh my God, I remember that character! She was half-human, half-fairy! And she was super pissed about it! And she had to lead that murderous princess out of the impenetrable forest while evading the evil-but-not-really queen!”

And then, you know, you’ll go, “That story SUCKED.” Because let’s face it, it did. But you had other characters, and other stories, and some of them weren’t bad! Certainly better than your drawings.

These guys weren’t so terrible. Their story was alright. (In case you’re wondering, the one in the middle, Kenna, has ice hair.) Drawn around age 14/15.

These guys weren’t so terrible. Their story was alright. (In case you’re wondering, the one in the middle, Kenna, has ice hair.) Drawn around age 14/15.

Think about it, Robin. Why do you draw? It’s not actually because you want to be some kind of visual artist. It’s because you like to tell stories! And when you draw these terrible-looking characters, those stories come to life in your head.

It’s too bad Robin never figured out Mullet Punk Pirate King Rick’s story. Drawn at age 17.

It’s too bad Robin never figured out Mullet Punk Pirate King Rick’s story. Drawn at age 17.

And then, eventually, they come to life on paper. (Or, more accurately, on Microsoft Word on your ridiculously ancient MacBook. How ancient? SEVEN YEARS. This thing is looking death in the face.)

Robin, all your life you haven’t been training yourself to be an animator. You’ve been training yourself to be a storyteller.

It’s unfortunate you won’t figure this out sooner, that you’ll pursue acting for the next couple of years, thinking that it must be your calling since you got accepted to CSSSA for it. But you already know, deep down, that acting is a hobby.

It’s not a dream. It’s not the dream.

So go home and open that letter. Read the rejection. Feel like a failure for a while, cry it out, and give up a dream.

And know that you won’t be giving up THE dream.

Oh, and you will get better at drawing. Not professional-good, but doodle-good. Good enough to show off without being embarrassed.

Most of the time, anyway.

Grown-up Robin!

Grown-up Robin!

Here’s to a dream fulfilled!

Love,

Your future self

PS: If you really wanted to be an animator, it would have been a good idea to take some art classes. Just saying.

PPS: December 31st, 2007: Don’t eat the elk jerky. It’s going to give you food poisoning. Just saying.


Amulet Books, March 2014.

Amulet Books, March 2014.

Robin Herrera received her MFA in writing for children at Vermont College. This is her first book. She lives in Portland, Oregon.