I Used To Want To Be A Writer Too

Hi Everyone!

A few months ago, a woman asked me for advice about her eight year old daughter. “She wants to be a writer,” the mother wrote . “What should we be doing?”

To be honest, I was kind of stumped. Being only seventeen myself,  I think it was the way she asked — “What should WE be doing?” I didn’t really know what to do with that “we.”Also, it was quite early in the day, and I hadn’t yet had sufficient caffeine intake to be giving anyone advice. I suggested Nanowrimo, and recommended some favourite books but the mother wasn’t satisfied. There must be more — what else could they do?

The mother thanked me anyway. I had a feeling she’d buy all those books for her daughter, perhaps before the day was over, but she still seemed to be waiting for something. I felt like I wasn’t giving her what she wanted, and though she was being really polite about it, I actually felt bad that I couldn't come up with an answer that would satisfy her. The feeling stuck with me all day — I pondered over her question and wondered if there were something I’d forgotten, some crucial piece of advice I could have given to placate her. But the more I thought about it, the more confused I became about why my initial answer wasn’t enough.

Fact: writers write. 

Fact: In order to be a writer you have to write a lot. A LOT. 

Fact: there’s no short-cut.

I do want to say that I think it’s really great that this mother — or any mother — is looking for ways to actively support her child’s writing. Whether it was wise to come to someone whose writing only extends to this blog and some small articles in a local paper is debatable, especially since this blog is off limits to my own family.

Either way, it’s a few months after that email first came through and I'm still thinking about it, and I'm still a little perplexed by the question. But I'm ready to take another crack at it.

What can you do to help your child pursue their dreams of becoming a writer?

First of all, let them be bored. Let them have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit their TV-watching time and their internet-playing time and take away their phone. Give them a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure they have a library card and a comfy corner where they can curl up with a book. Give them a notebook and a fiver so they can pick out a great pen.

Insist they spend time with their family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another country, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from their friends, internet connection and people their own age. Give them some tedious chores to do. Make them mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garden fence. Make them go on long walks with you and tell them you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighbourhood.

Let them be lonely. Let them believe that no one in the world truly understands their plight. Give them the freedom to fall in love with the wrong person, to lose their heart, to have it smashed and abused and broken. Occasionally be too busy to listen, be distracted by other things, have your nose in a great book, be gone with your own friends.

Let them have secrets. Let them have their own folder on the family computer. Avoid the temptation to read through their notebooks. Writing should be their safe haven, their place to experiment, their place to work through their confusion and feelings and thoughts. If they do share their writing with you, be supportive of their  hard work and the journey they're on. Ask them questions about their craft and their process. Ask them what was hardest about this piece and what they're most proud of. Don’t mention publication unless they mention it first. Remember that writing itself is the reward.

Let them get a job. Let them work long hours for crappy pay with a mean employer and rude customers. If they want to be a writer, they'll have to be comfortable with hard work and low pay. Let them spend their own money on books and lattes — they’ll be even sweeter when they've worked hard for them. Let them fail.

Let them write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. Let them write dreadful fan fiction. Don’t freak out when they show you stories about Bella Swan making out with Draco Malfoy. Never take their writing personally or assume it has anything to do with you, even if they only write stories about dead mothers and orphans. Let them go without writing if they want to. Never nag them about writing, even if they're cheerful when writing and completely unbearable when they're not. Let them quit writing altogether if they want to.

Let them  make mistakes.

Let them stay after school to work on the newspaper, but only if they want to. Let them publish embarrassingly personal stories in the school magazine. Let them spill the family’s secrets. Let them tell the truth, even if you’d rather not hear it. Let them sit outside at night under the stars. Give them a torch to write by.

 Let them find their own voice, even if they have to try on the voices of a hundred others first to do so. Let them find their own truth, even if they have to spin outrageous lies in search of it. Remember that their truth isn't the same as anyone else’s truth, and that even if you were there with them when it happened, your memories of a moment will likely be vastly different from theirs. Let them write thinly-veiled memoirs disguised as fiction. It’s okay if they massage past events to make a better story, or leaves out entire years of their life. It’s okay if they write about characters who have nothing to do with their life, their experience, or their world. That’s what fiction is.

Let them write poetry on their jeans and their shoes and their backpack, even if you just bought them brand new. Keep them safe but not too safe, comfortable but not too comfortable, happy but not too happy. Above all else, love them and support them. Love them and believe in them. Love them, and let them go. In the end, your love is all that matters, and it will be enough. The rest will come from them.

If nothing else, the chances of you being the subject of that first novel, or the name it is dedicated to will be infinitely higher if you do these things. Because suddenly, they will no longer 'want' to be a writer, because you have given them too much to write about for them to even think of ever doing anything else.




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