Instructions to My Younger Self

Emily Woodhouse Writing

For the duration of lockdown, I’m putting out weekly creative prompts. You can join in too here. I send them out on a Monday morning and you have a week to respond in whichever medium you like. Search #adventureprompts for other people’s work.

This week’s prompt was:

“A letter to your younger self.”

A while ago I was given a book of poems, one for every day of the year. One of the poems is Instructions by Neil Gaiman. Although I’m not really sure it’s a poem, I really like the idea. [Edit: after throwing mine together this week, Neil’s certainly feels more like a poem than mine!] You’re telling a story without telling the story. Maybe have a read of it here.

So, for this prompt, I’m going to write my own version of instructions for my younger self. I’ve tried to keep the fantasy-style feel of the original poem. Enjoy!

Instructions for EPW, 2004

Go out the door and you will find yourself in a forest of many parts.

Some are safe and some will try to hurt you. Learn the signs and they’ll serve you for life.

Walk through the forest.

Take as much good from it as you can. Explore high and low, wild and sensible. Appreciate its cover from the rain.

When choosing between two roads in a yellow wood, remember you can always make a third path, if you wish.

Be careful thinking, “That’s a shame, I would have liked that” about the distant future. Each time it will happen.

There are mountains in France.

When she says, “Do you want to?” She means, “I would like to, will you come?”

Attention is the most important currency in the world, particularly in friendship.

You already know the path you want to take. Be brave enough to take it.

You will never feel old enough.


Leave the forest and enter a clearing. Enjoy the sun on your back, your face, your hair.

Your time here will be short and it’s everything you wanted – remember to enjoy it.

When a book calls you across a room, a road, a city: always listen to it. Never leave it on the bookshelf.

If you listen to people now, you might get what you want but you will lose who you are.

Do not accept the universe’s first response if you don’t like it. The second no is always more final.

If you ask to be happy accept that you may first be very, very sad.


Before you know it, you’ll be in a cold realm of snow and ice. Surrounded by jagged peaks, others will choose a mountain and climb it and shout that theirs is highest. Remain silent.

Do not trust the one who hugs you first.

Poison is easily taken when you think it’s honey.

Expect to fall. You will feel like you’re falling.

Expect to fight. You will need to fight with every fibre of your being.

When you say it explicitly to his face, he still won’t believe you.

Silence can be deceiving but people always think too loudly in the library.

When the mountains call, go.

Speak crazy ideas aloud and they will happen.

Follow what feels right in your heart but remember:

If it isn’t too good to be true, it may be true but it isn’t good either.

There is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train.


Crawl out of the tunnel. On the wide open plain, you can walk in any direction.

But unless you know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which direction you take. Start walking.


There are high winds on the plain that will buffet you this way and that. You may have to correct your course more than once.

It’s okay to find places to duck down out of the wind a while. A poor shelter is better than nothing, for a little while.

Remember landscapes are better than people and people make a stronger wind break than one person alone.

Dartmoor makes everything better. Everything.

If you plant lots of seeds, accept that the time will come to thin out the seedlings. Don’t leave the thinning too late.

Beware of walking into mirrors. Inside every day becomes the same – it is easy to get trapped.

Stay in touch with her, even when everything is awful and you can’t find your happy ending.

You can tell a raven from a changeling by its teeth.

You can’t save everyone. Not even you.


Finally, always remember who you were at the start of this journey.

She has all the answers.