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Work Hard, Fail Often

Dear Teen Antony,

Okay, seriously now. I need you to take a deep breath. Because what I’m about to tell you will BLOW YOUR MIND. You know that dream you have of being a composer and publishing tons of music? Yeah, well . . . you’ll publish, all right, but it won’t be music. It’ll be books. Middle Grade and Young Adult novels, to be specific.

I know, right? That’s why I told you to take a deep breath—which you clearly didn’t do, because I can see you’ve practically passed out from shock on that weird green carpet in the living room. You totally should’ve followed my advice. But then, you’re not very good at that, are you? On the plus side, that stubbornness will come in handy in your future line of work.

Sorry, what? You think you do listen to advice? Uh, what about when your friends told you not to trim your own hair? If you’d listened, you wouldn’t have ended up looking like this:

Okay, yes, you’re right: That photo of you as a choirboy was taken shortly before you turned 13, so you’re a tween not a teen and blah blah blah. But it’s not like your hairstyle changed once you became a teen. Oh, and spoiler alert: You’ll continue to have bad hair all the way through college too. But hey, thirty years from now you won’t have much hair left at all, so it’ll be harder to screw it up. I’m telling you, life’s a crazy ride!

Like that outfit you’re wearing. Only in England would people think that putting boys in bright white choir outfits is a smart idea. You know how Mum complains about how hard it is to get it properly white again in the laundry? One day, you’ll do the laundry for your kids—yes, you’ll have kids; yes, they’re much cooler than you—and you’ll understand what she’s talking about. So that’s one piece of advice, right there: Go easy on your parents. They’re really trying, and unlike a lot of parents in the world, they are going to support you in literally everything you do. That’s a rare gift.

But back to composing. Because, let’s be honest, you’d devote literally every waking moment to it, if you could. And here I am, telling you that you’re about to spend YEARS studying music, only to leave that world altogether and become a writer. I guess you probably hate me for that, especially because you’re not—how to put this nicely?—an avid reader. (That will change in about a year.) Here’s the thing, though (and this is the reason I really need to write to you): All those years of music study will turn out to be the preparation you need to become a writer. It’s not the usual path for an author (if such a thing exists), but every time you come up with a new musical idea, develop themes, map out structure, consider what your performers and audience want, and how long the finished piece will be . . . you’re thinking like a writer! And every time you write, you’ll be drawing from lessons learned through all those compositions. It’s pretty cool. And it brings me on to a bigger point that I really want to make . . .

See, you’re really focused on a goal right now. Whether it’s writing a new piece, perfecting a performance, or getting into a good college, it’s all about music. What you don’t realize is that it’s the process that really matters. Music gives you something to strive for. It’s teaching you to work hard, and fail. Often. But it’s also providing you the opportunity to perform, to be part of a group, to make friends that—and I can say this with certainty—you’re going to keep for the rest of your life.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: satisfaction isn’t just about achieving a goal, it’s about the journey that got you there. It’s not about being really good at one specific thing; it’s about loving something.

So enjoy indulging that thing you love, you nerd! Enjoy having something that makes you feel excited to get up every morning. And enjoy every place it takes you, because when you look back, you’ll see that it was all part of what got you from there to here.

Oh, and one more thing: Please tell Mum and Dad to make peace with the green living room carpet. Because it’ll still be there in 2019.


About The Author: Antony John was born in England and raised on a balanced diet of fish and chips and bizarre British comedies. To annoy his parents, he studied classical music at university. Now he writes books instead of music so he can wear sweatpants all day. He lives in St. Louis with his family, who think he’s weird for not liking chocolate. They might be right. His most recent book is The Other, Better Me.


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