12 July 2011

How to Be a Writer

A few weeks ago, a woman asked me for advice about her teenage daughter. “She wants to be a writer,” the mother said. “What should we be doing?”

To be honest, I was kind of stumped. (In part, I think it was the way she asked it – “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 coffee to be giving anyone advice.) I suggested a few upcoming creative writing classes, but the mother wasn’t satisfied. There must be more – what else could they do?

“Well,” I said, “you know. Writers read a lot… and write a lot.”

She looked at me blankly.

“You really do have to write a lot,” I said. “I mean, that’s mostly it. You write a lot.”

The mother shook her head. “What else? Are there books she can read? Events she can attend? Writing camps?”

“Um,” I said. “Sometimes writers have writing buddies… they meet at coffee houses and write together?”

The mother liked this suggestion. “You could do that!” she told her daughter. The girl blushed.

I offered some titles of books to read. Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, Bird by Bird. If You Want to Be a Writer. Letters to a Young Poet. The Metamorphoses. (I know Ovid doesn’t have a lot of advice for writers; I just like to push the Metamorphoses on people. It’s a soap opera in verse!)

The mother scribbled them down. I had a feeling she’d buy them all 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 chewed over her question and wondered if there was 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 shortcut.

(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 kid's writing. I also imagine it might be challenging to have a kid who wants to be a writer -- it's not like you can just go out and join the Band Boosters and support your child's passion by raising money to buy new trumpets or whatever. There's no 'Poet Boosters' for parents.)

So now it’s a few weeks later and I’m still thinking about it, and I’m still a little perplexed by the question. But I’ve had some coffee, and I’m ready to take another crack at it.

What should you do to help your child pursue her dreams of becoming a writer?

First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book. Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.

Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her. Give her the freedom to fall in love with the wrong person, to lose her 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 her have secrets. Let her have her own folder on the family computer. Avoid the temptation to read through her notebooks. Writing should be her safe haven, her place to experiment, her place to work through her confusion and feelings and thoughts. If she does share her writing with you, be supportive of her hard work and the journey she’s on. Ask her questions about her craft and her process. Ask her what was hardest about this piece and what she’s most proud of. Don’t mention publication unless she mentions it first. Remember that writing itself is the reward.

Let her get a job. Let her work long hours for crappy pay with a mean employer and rude customers. If she wants to be a writer, she’ll have to be comfortable with hard work and low pay. Let her spend her own money on books and lattes – they’ll be even sweeter when she’s worked hard for them.

Let her fail. Let her write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. Let her write dreadful fan fiction. Don’t freak out when she shows you stories about Bella Swan making out with Draco Malfoy. Never take her writing personally or assume it has anything to do with you, even if she only writes stories about dead mothers and orphans.

Let her go without writing if she wants to. Never nag her about writing, even if she’s cheerful when writing and completely unbearable when she’s not. Let her quit writing altogether if she wants to.

Let her make mistakes.

Let her stay after school to work on the newspaper, but only if she wants to. Let her publish embarrassingly personal stories in the school literary magazine. Let her spill the family’s secrets. Let her tell the truth, even if you’d rather not hear it.

Let her sit outside at night under the stars. Give her a flashlight to write by.

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

Let her write poetry on her jeans and her shoes and her backpack, even if you just bought them brand new.

Keep her safe but not too safe, comfortable but not too comfortable, happy but not too happy.

Above all else, love and support her. Love her and believe in her. Love her, and let her go. In the end, your love is all that matters, and it will be enough. The rest will come from her.

***


Edit: In the time since I started writing this, I had dinner with a good friend from high school. We were talking about the old days, and I dragged out a journal from junior year to prove a point. “How many of those do you have now?” he asked.

Journals, 1995-2011

“Forty-two,” I said. “I have a whole bookshelf of them.”

“You should show them to people. A visual aid, to help them see how much writing practice you did.”

I thought about another friend of mine from the old days, a talented artist who used to get mad when people told him he was a talented artist. “I just draw every day,” he’d always say. “I’ve drawn every day since I was a little kid. If you drew every day for fifteen years, you would be good at it too. Anyone would.”

Mick Jagger is reported as saying, “You have to sing every day so you can build up to being, you know, Amazingly Brilliant.”

I don’t write every day. I never have. But I do write most days, and I’ve filled thousands of pages of notebook paper with writing. I swear there’s no magic trick, no simple solution, no get-writerly-quick scheme. You have to write a lot of words. You have to write your heart out. And in the end, you discover that the writing’s what matters. Writing is its own reward. I promise.

119 comments:

Margo Gremmler said...

A thousand times, yes! Great post, Molly. Agreed on every single count.
My journals (from age 10-16 I think?) don't stack up quite as high as yours, but they're probably just as hormonal. ;)

Sahel Mahadeen said...

i still amateur writer , but i spent most of my time reading and writing
BTW i liked this post , Thanks

Serial Monogamist said...

This is great. Two things strike me:1. a mother can't make a writer. It's the daughter's job. 2. Read. Read. Read more. People who want to be writers all too often do not spend enough time reading. And I don't mean books about writing, I mean: read what you want to write.

heather said...

Molly, this is beautiful! Thanks for sharing--and for validating my not letting the kids watch TV or have cell phones.... :->

JMASS said...

I've been calling myself a writer for awhile now, but this post makes me feel like I'm that notebook-journaling teenage girl, asking for writing advice all over again (and cherishing it!!!). A million thanks for these words.

marcel said...

The update puts me in mind of M. Gladwell's "10K hours of practice to become good at anything" (don't recall which book it was, I read the NYer version).

The women asking your advice reminds of my wife's best friend who visited last week, and has a son in his early 20s. She (the bf) is very successful and very anxious. She has a tense relationship with her son because she nags incessantly when she thinks he's not taking enough initiative to succeed, and ends up making phone calls, etc., to line up jobs, internships and whatever else she thinks he needs and won't otherwise get. She cannot let him fail. From the little I've seen of him, he's a sweet kid, my daughter whose 2 days older agrees, but he seems to work quite hard to keep his mother at a distance. I hope the woman in your story is less overbearing. There's something about the rest of your advice which suggests to me that she won't be able to act on it.

Anna M. said...

Poet Boosters... not a bad idea, actually, from a parent's perspective. Find out how many kids at the school want to be writers, call their parents, get things going....

Great article overall.

Maria said...

This is beautiful. I miss writing. So much of what you said sounds so much like me. I've taken a largely unplanned hiatus from writing and my life feels very incomplete. Reading this reminds me how much I need to write. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This isn't just good advice on how te become a writer but on how to succeed in life and become good at what you do; it's also about good parenting.

Instead of writing you can put anything: programming, designing, painting, sports, math, diving... You name it...

Love it. Great piece!

bjoyced said...

That's such good advice!!! My sister Janet Culliton just today became a published author--did not listen to all the negative comments from those around her, telling her how hard it is to get published....she did NOT give up--"Kawika, the Boy Who Lived In His Room"....pre-teen great book!!! b.j denecochea, Atascadero, CA

Emily Joy said...

Beauty, Molly. Thank you for writing!

carey farrell said...

i'm printing this out and pasting it up on my wall. or possibly onto my forehead.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a wonderful post.

I'd like to add Neil Gaiman's advice to anyone who wants to be a writer: "Just. Finish. It."

Anonymous said...

Loved every bit of what you said and would like to see it posted in every parent handbook!

Turner said...

How true, how true. This reminds me a lot of people's reactions to running. "You just ran a marathon? But it's so far!"

"Not really that far, after you've run thousands of kilometers in training."

The trial of miles, miles of trials. In the same way, the trial of words.

Claire said...

I love this. "Being a writer" has become a desirable "career" these days yet few people understand that it's just a matter of WRITING. Write, write, write, like you live and breathe.

Laura Harrison said...

Writing is a brillent thing to do. I love it so much.

It is its own reward. Your right.

JO said...

Brilliant - this is exactly how it is.

Katie Seth said...

I absolutely love this. Great advice for any writer.

I recently started tutoring a couple of boys in Creative Writing, and this post is very reassuring - I've been feeling a bit like a broken record, telling them every week to read as much as they possibly can...

Melanie Jongsma said...

Thanks for this post, Molly. I'm new to your blog, but I followed a link from Ta-Nehisi Coates. (Congratulations!) I'm going to share this with my brother and sister-in-law, whose daughter likes writing. Thank you!

Ben said...

This is stunningly brilliant. As a 26-year old writer, I don't know anything about encouraging a child to write yet, but I know about being one and longing to. Thank you for this Molly.

Tracy Rowan said...

You just described my youth. Thank you.

RMJ said...

I don’t write every day. I never have.

I love the whole piece, but this part particularly made me sigh in relief. I always feel so ashamed when writing advice boils down to "write every day or you'll never truly be good", because I just can't. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

Linda Craig said...

I agree with every word. . . however, I hate to say this, Molly, but these suggestions sound like the perfect suggestions for RAISING a child, not just a writer.

Lowell Mick White said...

Yep, you just described my life, too. Lovely piece of writing....

Logan E. Turner said...

Molly, you take my breath away. This damn near had me ugly crying right here in the office. YES, to all of it. You rock!

kokopelliwoman said...

VERY cool! A must-read for all parents.

Molly Drake said...

This post is so good in so many ways. Thanks for the validation of my youth. When you're young it's so easy to feel like you're wasting your time in all those journals, or else just to feel downright embarrassed by how badly you're writing. I know there have been whole months of journals that I've ripped up and thrown in the trash can, they were so bad. But now I regret not having those words, and not ever being able to get them back. I wish I had read this as a pre-teen and been told about the value of failure!

Carina said...

Thank you for writing this. A friend of mine linked it and it's very timely with what I'm going through right now. :)

Kate West said...

Excellent advice!

Lyndie Strawbridge said...

I got directed to this post via a friend, and I love it. I also love your DOG. Any greyhound nut is obviously a genius, so no wonder you've given such good writing advice. :)

Brendan said...

great post and great advice for young writers. don't forget they need to read just as much as they need to write!

Karen said...

Great blog and wonderful post! This reminds me of the many people who say "I could write a book, but I don't have the time." That's like "I could be a brain surgeon, but..." You can't claim it if you don't do it! As a writer who doesn't spend as much time writing as I would like, I asked a successful author recently how she was so productive. Her answer: "Butt in chair." If you put your butt in the chair and your laptop on your lap, amazingly enough, words flow out of your fingers. Don't put your butt in the chair... you get the idea.
:)

Travis said...

Great piece! Maybe I'm just emotional today, but this really moved me.

Laura said...

I love this so much. This was my childhood in Iowa. I sent it to my mom (hi mom!). I also blogged about it.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

If a kid wants to watch television, they should be able to watch television.
Not allowing your child to do certain things does not a great writer make.
Check yourself.

Anonymous said...

I found this post extremely tedious. The one line commands that go on for several paragraphs made me mentally cringe. This really is not advice I would give any overbearing parent to try and form their child into a writer. As an aspiring 14 year old artist, I can only agree with thefact if you want to do something, like become a writer, you MUST write everyday. As I type this out, the palm of my right hand is stained with ink, because I WANT to practice drawing. If the aforemebtioned teenage girl doesn't want to write everyday, and her mom is trying to get her writing buddies and what not, then maybe writing is not something she truly loves. My parents have supported me
in my decisions, but have made no suggestions about what I should be doing (other than the occasional talk about college). Not only that, but I agree with the other anon. Having them not watch TV/ use their cellphone will not make them a great writer. (This is coming from the teenager who has never had a cell phone, and hasn't had television since the summer of 2010.) This article upset me even further when I saw the comments of women who had not only given up their own writing, but were also using this to justify cutting down on their children's TV and cell phone usage??

This article was poorly written, and the majority of the ideas presented are not things that would make a good writer.
Sincerely,
A 14 year old astonished by how some parents act.

Shirley said...

Great post. Found it on FB. The anonymous respondants above show you have arrived. Only popular posts get flamed. I recently wrote about the relationship to reading and writing--with less eloquence but equal passion. Brava.

Anonymous said...

To the 14-year-old artist, your comment is welcome, but you have missed the point. The article is not how to be a writer, but how to be the parent of a writer -- how to set your children free to create, and to grow in their artistry and their craft. My parents did that for me, and I hope your parents will do that for you.

I'm a writer, myself, and have been for more than 40 years. Sometimes I have even been paid for it. I have even taught writing in classrooms. I do not write every day -- never have. Some days I read, some days I think, some days I just live my life with family and friends or by myself. I study things I will never practice. I read about places I will never visit. I live in my mind, sometimes, like I did when I was a bored child on a long summer day or a cold winter night. And eventually, I write.

This is an excellent post that brought tears to my eyes, thinking of how well my parents raised me to be a writer. And they never even knew that's what they were doing.

Sixeast said...

Well said. Good advice for any mom or any writer....

Kate said...

I love this post, Molly. And your advice rings true: when my daughter said she wanted to be a writer, we hit a Chinatown shop full of awesome notebooks and pens. She loves her tools of the craft and carries them with her everywhere. Now for some of those lazy summer mornings.

The Woven Moments said...

Wow. Just...WOW. Thank you for the guidance - I find my writing is much improved when I write every day. Even if I write every other day, it's just not the same.

Karen S. Elliott said...

I think your advice was right on target. Write and read - a lot. As a former H.S. band member, I loved the reference, and there should be a Poet Boosters!

Anonymous said...

The best advice I can offer if writing is to be a vocation in life as aposed to a hobby (we are all writers in that sense) is not necessarily write incessantly, but to learn the craft of articulation.

Study language, and how to engage with people. Learn how words, phrasing and listening (in a verbal capacity) will give you the tools in how then to transmit to paper.

Soak up everything you see, and take notes. Writing is a byproduct of experience.

As a medium of self expression, good writers are able to convey a connecting state of emotion in their audience.

Simply writing constantly is slightly disconnecting.

Invest all your time in experiencing life to its fullest, and engage with people. Writing needs to come from somewhere, its not a technical 'means to an end' and you don't necessarily get any better by doing more of it - I say 'better' in the sense of writing becoming a career.

Cheers for the article Molly. Some worthy tips.

Gye Greene said...

Yow! Your follow-up comments (for parents of writers) were great -- but the initial query made me cringe.

I write songs. I think they're pretty good songs. Some aren't very good (and those are the ones I don't bother recording). To be a songwriter, you -- umm, write songs. To be a painter, you do a lot of paintings. Probably true for **any** art form.

Taking classes and reading "How to [name of art form]" books probably don't hurt -- but I doubt Stephen King or John Clancy, etc., had B.A.s in English. They just sat down and wrote.

Corrollary to your initial comment about "Just write a lot": If you're not already writing a lot, just because you're compelled (or inspired) to -- then you're probably not cut out to be a writer. ;)


--GG

Anonymous said...

The message that a "bored" child will find some outlet resonates well. I would suggest that the parents' role should emphasize that the outlet be a creative one -- boredom, is also attributed with high rates of juvenile delinquency.

cryptozoologist said...

i saw william gibson at a book signing and he was asked to provide advice for young writers. he attributed the following to robert heinlein:

write a lot

finish what you write

keep sending it off to publishers, rejection notices be damned!

Pamela Toler said...

Lovely, and true. You basically described my childhood and adolescence.

Cindy L said...

Wonderful post, and all true. As a professional writer who grew up doing most of the things you suggested here, I also tell budding writers that they will often grapple with the issue of making enough money if they opt for a writing career. Writers are rarely paid well, and the publishing industry is tough. And with so many journalists willing to blog or write for free, pay rates for freelancers keep going down, down, down. That said, if you really want to write, don't let the money issue stop you.

heavy hedonist said...

Writing camps aren't a bad idea, either... and your friend might try involving her child in NanoWrimo's Young Writer's program: http://www.nanowrimo.org

She'd find herself in good company there. Wish I'd had it when I was her age.

Dave Goossen said...

Thanks that was great! I too write because I want to and read a lot because I love too. And I realized that I read different after finishing my first novel. There is now a level of appreciation, of a club now joined, that wasn't there before which has been and exciting bonus.

Shelley Souza said...

I felt as if I was reading the Desiderata for writers...beautifully spoken.

I'm impressed by your stack of journals. I write a lot and I shred a lot.

Your friend is right: talent is overrated. Practice is everything. I always think of van Gogh, whose talent was average at best; but whose power of intention was off the charts. His vision to succeed made his art so innovative, he became the father of modern art.

I understood from your description of the conversation with the mother and child that you didn't speak directly to the child. Do you think that may be the reason it stayed with you...because you missed an opportunity to make a direct connection?

வே. இளஞ்செழியன் said...

Makes sense. While the idea that practice makes one perfect -- and aspiring writers, singers, and (for that matter) programmers need to immerse themselves in their chosen craft -- is commonplace, your emphasis on boredom struck me as novel.

I don't write much. Except like this, in bits. Or when I'm angry -- really angry -- about something, typically some perceived injustice. Maybe I'm lazy. Or perhaps ... and this is pure conjecture ... I get the release simply by constructing phases, and sentences, and paragraphs. Urge satisfied, I move on.

You are the writer; tell me if there's any merit in this line of thinking.

eringraves said...

Found this through Maria Popova's @brainpicker feed. Loved this post Molly, it was so inspirational and so true -- my love of writing was borne out of my love of reading.

Thanks for sharing your journal stack too - mine pales in comparison - but it inspires me to dust of my Moleskine (I've neglected it in the last 6 months) and get writing!

Katherine said...

What an inspiring post for a wannabe writer of any age. I also really like your insight into encouraging your child. Great parenting advice in general whether they are passionate about writing or photography or music, whatever.

Lynn Trimble said...

Read, write and walk -- different places, different paces. Also: Read Gail Sher's "One Continuous Mistake." --Lynn Trimble/Stage Mom blogger for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine

eurolacpuntnet said...

I'm so glad I clicked the link someone on Twitter shared (Thank you @BirthingKristen!). I'm a 55 year old aspiring writer. I spent my child year mostly playing outdoors and reading, a lot; and my adolescence mainly reading and fantasizing in my mind. I started writing non-fiction (profession related informational, educational and debate-provoking, lately bogging as well in both my native language an English) and the itches to write fiction started about 10 years ago. No journal stash here, but some computer folders with try-outs and sketches. Your blog inspired me to just go for it and go on producing letters and words of any kind anywhere and to one finish at least one book, fiction or non-fiction. Thank you for inspiring!

Odich said...

Nice post!
I know of a Dutch writer who started writing, because of lack of books in the library. She lived abroad as a child and the local library had only so much books in languages she could read. After finishing them all, she started writing her own stories, so she had something 'new' to read. Thus, as a little extra to your advise: let the library card be one of a very small library ;-)

Interestingly, your post - with a few tweaks - could apply for parents of all kind of wannabe artists: painters, actors, musicians, directors etc.

I was a little puzzled about your advice of a notebook and a pen. I would never do that. It would be an old laptop with only wordpocessing software on it (no distractions). I find digital writing more 'creative'. It's less time consuming to change your story and you can easily keep versions, share or make safety backups.
Besides, being a fast typer helps you to find that underpaid secretary job to that evil boss ;-)
But maybe one should give the child in question a choice: paper of digital. Let it try both.

One last remark: would your story be different at some point if it was about a son? Or a father asking?

Lisa Kilian said...

What a wonderful piece! Just... It's wonderful and that's all I can say. Reminds me of my budding writer childhood — lots of boredom and loneliness and now here we are. :)

Kossiwa Logan said...

I love what you said about writing. It's hard to write awful prose and poetry and even harder to read it, but it helps. I remember being in high school and writing stories that I hated to read, but I think I've learned a lot from those stories. I read a lot; R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and today I still read, mainly short stories like Andre Dubus and William Gay and J California Cooper. I think reading and writing a lot is the best education for being a writer, as well as taking a few classes to make sure that you're on the right track. I'm not sure why she'd not accept your answer to what she can do to help her daughter be a writer

Anonymous said...

Dear Molly, thank you for sharing this wonderful advice. I felt so good reading this: it is exactly what we are doing with our daughter, Maja, who wants to write. I had to wonder, though, why I do not extend the same kindness to myself. Thanks again, Marie-Louise

pretzlogic said...

I am perplexed at the constant reliance on the phrase "a lot". How can any one of you seriously consider writing as a profession with such lazy usage of the English language? Language is a gift. Imagine a world without words.
One does not become a great writer any more than one becomes a great 'anything', a proficient writer, perhaps, but not great. Where does the concept of innate talent enter this conversation? Apparently, it has not been given a single thought. You have given great advice on how to actually experience your own life (which the need to do so is a dreadful comment on our current society) however, a writer is not molded and produced by any process. A writer is born. A true writer will write wthout being told to do so. A writer thinks and vigilantly observes, partially digesting the absurdity of the world around him and then in an involuntary and inescapable reaction, he regurgitates onto paper the temporary relief. A writer writes to survive.
This world is plagued with writers, breeding exponentially on the internet. If you want to write, find another job, If you have to write, you are a writer.

Kate Douglas said...

What a wonderful post, (though it makes me sad I no longer keep my journals up to date) and as much a lesson on good parenting as parenting a writer. Sometimes I get the feeling lives are so rushed now that very few children have time to live solely within their imaginations, to dream, to be bored. I really enjoyed reading this--and letting my mind wander to the times I sat and stared into space.

Bridget Asher said...

(i'm new to your blog) well put! will steer people here. (there are some cool kid writer camps out there, too.)

Mary Kate Leahy said...

I think your advice is not only the key to helping a kid become a writer, but just to general good parenting. Happy but not too happy, good stuff.

Jennifer D said...

"Writing is its own reward."

I'd forgotten that. Thank you for reminding me.

Mallory Snow said...

What I wouldn't give for a summer of lazy afternoons... :)

Thank you so much for sharing these words of wisdom. So beautiful and so true.

Ilie Ruby said...

I loved this post. I have a daughter that wants to be a writer and we are enjoying our first lazy summer...and she has her face buried in her notebooks, scribbling away for hours. When she's away from it, she says, "mama, I need to write, my hands are hungry for it." Makes my heart glad that she'll always have this.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=654688316 said...

Molly, thank you for this post – I cannot describe the amazing feeling of gratitude that came over me as I read through it, both for the feeling of understanding, as well as the thankfulness that my parents knew what to do. I began writing when I was 8 years old...on a tossed out typewriter my neighbor threw out. The keys stuck and the erase didn't work...but I felt it pull me. I wrote, about everything, first my dog...then my cats, and then transformed myself. I wrote in 7th grade for a writing contest at school & won. I wrote in 9th grade for an English teacher who believed in me (I am now 34) and the writing remains on his wall in my alma mater. In my senior year I took college prep creative writing courses and was astonished (as well as honored and overwhelmed) that my professor thought I had plagiarized stating “The emotions & forward thinking could not, as displayed in my 20+ years of teaching creative writing, have come from a 17 year old”. I received letters from several poetry artists supporting my talents & the professor reneged on his accusation. My point is…my parents allowed me to write in random, chaotic, aggressive and often times emotional prose...I found myself there & I strongly believe that had they not done so, I might have imploded into depth of it all. My father sat by, every time I told him, I had something he needed to hear (being a writer in his past)...and just LISTENED; this was the most positive feeling I've felt to date. My parents didn't try to direct, or guide me to write what the wanted to hear...just listened and waited until I found MY voice…me and wrote for a decade until I met my husband, who could not accept that the writings had no rhyme or reason…so I stopped (5 years ago). Without the writing, I am…well, without words, I’ve lost myself in my head. The rhyme is still within me, the reason is gone. Note to all parents of children who are truly displaying these talents, support without criticism, guide without motive, direct with un-biased love for their skill & you will have a child who will love you unconditionally & well past the emotional years.

Kim Bullock said...

Great post Molly. I was lucky enough to have parents who did exactly what you suggested. My isolated childhood turned out to be just what I needed, though it felt lonely at the time.

suchitra said...

lovely !!! i should start writing now. no matter how many mistakes i make but oh yeah i'm gonna write .......thanks.

markizs said...

Thanks, great article!
I see a bit of my childhood, shame that i have stopped writing since ... but this post makes me do it again!

Deborah Bowman said...

I held Oreo writing parties with my kids. We spent hours writing with an open bag of Oreos nearby. 33-1/3% became writers (1 out of 3 kids). See ImagineInk Publishing's Facebook page (my company) at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/ImagineInk-Publishing-Company/191484284225067 and our website at http://www.imagineinkpublishing.com

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Wonderful post! Sharing now... :)

DJ Vorreyer said...

Wonderful post. I teach middle school in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I think I am going to start a Writing Boosters parent group. I will credit you, of course. And I will be sending parents to this post.

Kris said...

wonderful and very true

Heather said...

I don't think you have to DO anything to or for your kid, except provide them with paper and/or a computer to write on. You're either a writer or you're not and no amount of writing, no amount of reading, is going to change that if it's not already THERE. You can't force it.

And I drew every day for 20-some years and I'll never be an artist. I'm crap, barely talented and in a family of artists, that sucks.

But writing? Yeah, I can write. And you're right--writers write. And read. A lot.

But you can't make someone who doesn't have it in them into a writer. Maybe a technical writer, but that's very seldom what someone is hoping to become when they say 'writer.'

I say, give them the skills to be anything they desire--a writer is something you are, it's not a job, it's not just a learned skill (even though it is, it's not one that EVERYONE can do)--it's in addition to what you DO.

IronMin said...

A wonderful perspective on the true core of writing: living. Everything feeds the craft, and you are so right...you just need to write it all down. And keep writing it down. Until you can't imagine NOT writing it down. And you can't think UNTIL you write it all down. Great post!

Sarah said...

This is wonderful advice and beautifully written.

There's no greater compliment than people grasping at straws to insult, eh?

Thank you for writing this. A friend shared it on Twitter, and I was so pleasantly surprised to see we went to college together! How cool to think I found this piece from a completely un-related to Grinnell source?

Can't wait to read more,

Sarah

Lori Sizemore said...

I'm a writer and through no pushing of my own and, when she was sufficiently ready, my daughter told me she's written things. Right now, she writes fan fiction. She didn't show it to me for a long time and then one day she sent me a story and asked me to edit it for punctuation. Which I did. Only punctuation.

But, this? It has touched me so much. Partly because you've described MY childhood and partly because I hope I've given my daughter those things.

Thank you so much for writing this.

Matt said...

i couldn't agree more with Ms. Sizemore.

What you wrote holds true for any art form... it's about experiencing life and and giving back a unique and personal outlook on that experience.

what touches us most is the freedom exhibited in the soul bearing vison that artists form from experiences like those listed.

thank you.

Erin said...

This is wonderful advice. I've kept all of my poetry notebooks - all of them - and yes they are a mighty stack, but every word has been important to the work I'm doing now.

Thank you for emphasizing that a writer doesn't magically appear but is the result of lots of writing and READING. You can't imagine how many people tell me that they want to be a poet, but when I ask them who they're reading right now, they have to admit that they don't read poetry. sigh.

You've done a great thing. Thanks.

kate hopper said...

I love this, Molly, and I'm so happy to know about your blog. (The link was sent to me by a former student who happens to be the mother of one of your students.) Write away!

kate hopper said...

Molly, I got that wrong. It was sent to my student by her daughter's writing instructor. :) Happy to have the link however I got it.

Mark said...

Writers write. Sometimes--often--what we write is stagnant, cliche, narcissistic. But sometimes we sneak up on profound truths that surprise even us, sublime stories, forgotten memories, ironic metaphors. Sometimes we tap a well into the collective consciousness that brings new insight into the human condition.

What you have written here is profound and moving. I have a ten year old daughter that is proving to be a precocious writer, and you've inspired me. Thank you.

Maribeth said...

This is great! Found the post through Teen Ink's Twitter. I love the energy of that girl's mother. And I love how much you care about your response.

Writers write :)

If you have a chance, I'd love a passionate writer's opinion on the online community I put together to foster excitement in poetry. It's called PoetryStock.com and I'm also in the early stages of planning the inaugural Woodstock-style poetry celebration for next year.

Thanks again for this post. I really enjoyed it.

Christopher Malo said...

Of all the things (books, blogs, etc.) that I have read about writing, this is up near the top of my favorites. The encouragement and direction to just write, and keep writing, no matter what. Thank you for penning and sharing this.

Anonymous said...

My daughter, a 20 something writer, tweeted this. I love it. It validates what she has been trying to communicate to me for several years. I am proud of her perseverance and dedication. It was really helpful to me in recalling the support I have been able to give her over the years, and a challenge to support her more! Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

That was awesome. I've read it at least five times. It was so inspirational, and now I think I'm going to go write...

Miss Cellania said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this post! The last part, with all the notebooks, really struck home. When I was a child, I always said I wanted to be a writer. I had tons of spiral notebooks filled with thoughts that I would never show anyone -and they all burned in a house fire when I was 17.

I convinced myself I would never be a professional writer and went on another path. Then at age 45, I started blogging and now I find myself writing professionally on the internet.

Now I have several teenage daughters. The advice in this post would serve them well no matter what profession they eventually go into.

dirtywhitecandy said...

I love this. You've nailed all the influences that lead dreamers to the page - a need to take your mind off the hook and listen, a feeling that no one understands what you do, a need to work out what it is you understand, a feeling that life is material to make something really important and that there must be a way to do it better. I'm tweeting to the heavens.

Sunny said...

I need to get my mother to read this. I'm a budding author myself at a young age.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Anessa said...

Great Post!

Lord Auron said...

"If you drew every day for fifteen years, you would be good at it too. Anyone would.”

I've drawn every day for 24 years and openly admit that I can barely outdraw a 3 year old. Practice only makes perfect if you have it in your heart and soul. If you only want to coldly put the image in your head onto the page, you're not going to excel at drawing.

As for writing, I wholly agree with everything you said and can only add one thing: paper. A great pen and good paper. I remember when I was 19 and struggling with my writing, I found an old, empty journal. The pages were thick and smooth, my pen raced over it with frictionless abandon. I felt unhindered and it helped me immensely.

Carolyn Brajkovich said...

That was simply beautiful and heartfelt. It's hard to describe what we writers do, and the trials that we endure to make something come alive with words. I'm definitely saving this to look at when I need that extra push to create. Bravo!!

Yup, and this applies to writers of all ages.

Willowtree said...

I enjoyed reading this post so much. I had the biggest smile when I saw your journals, because I have a similar scene on my bed right now - I was looking for something today, and I needed to take most of my journals down. At one point I just stared at them - the last 15 years of my life, all on paper. Im still chasing my dream or becoming a published author. If I didn't have my journals to reflect on, I might think I couldn't do it!

Jeeplette said...

I just came across your blog (through an acquaintance on G+) and wanted to send my thanks your way. It made me feel good that people take the time to think about something they said to someone else and make it better and more thorough for others.

You have inspired me to, once again, write. Thanks!

Bethany said...

Wow. This is so beautiful... and kind of creepy that you know that much about my awkward "young writer" years. :)

Anonymous said...

True to the very last word.
I'm 18 years old and I've written ever since primary school. Just that the people around me have always criticized whatever I wrote, which was sometimes a let down so I've been working with interruptions. But it eventually gets the best of me. I don't think I'm ever going to stop writing and improving.:) And that could even take a lifetime.

Nicole said...

Reading this made me inexplicably happy! I'm thinking about showing it to my mom.

Soraya Felix said...

I'm really like this post. It's true. I think very difficult say to people "how to write". Today I put a post in my blog to give some important points about it. Well, this is only points because "be a author" it's a magic thing that you have to work hard and write a lot, a lot and a lot. But, all of us need advises and you post is brilhant. Thanks!

Andrea said...

LOVE this. And in reading it I realized -- my mother did everything you suggested to make me a writer. She did it without knowing that's what I wanted to be (because I didn't know that's what I wanted to be) she did it because she wanted me to be comfortable just being me.

I'm always writing, have always been writing. When I'm not busy reading of course. And I've been a freelance editor for 4.5 years. I just launched my own blog and it surprises me, excites me, and astounds me when I see how many people read it, from how many countries. I still can't quite believe that other people, not family or friends but strangers, read what I've written.

Thank you for inspiring me to continue on this journey!

deepamwadds said...

This is such a brilliant and touching post. It applies not just to writing, but to raising a child whoever and whatever they choose to be or do. Brava.

Anonymous said...

I am going to mail this post to my dad.

Ana said...

This is such a wonderful post! For me, it was most exciting to see a mother actively supporting her daughter in becoming a writer. I feel like so many parents react with "My child wants to be an artist -- oh, no." The fact that some make an earnest attempt to provide all the necessary support and learning mechanisms bodes well for the next literary generation :-)

I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion around the profound importance of varied experiences (including life's unavoidable mistakes). To the list of books, I would also add John Gardner's "On Becoming a Novelist" and Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer."

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and so true.

Emily Ann Ward said...

OMG this was pretty much my childhood. My mom made me a writer without even knowing what she was doing. Or maybe she knew all along. . .she's pretty smarth.

Anonymous said...

Loved your wonderful speach i think it's great and Ithink I'll take your advise ! Part of me wants to take your advise but the other part doesn't. I'm shared right now. I'll soon have to make a choice but I don't know what to chose I've always loved writing but I'm in love with acting. if it's not to much to ask please help me.

JostWrite said...

Just found this piece and it is so true. I had loads and loads of old jornals that I finally decided to get rid of (Don't even ask me y?) lol. But i have been writing since i was about 8 and have not looked back. Reading is also so underrated...writers write, read, sit and stare a lot.

A really good post.

Gennady said...

"What should you do to help your child pursue her dreams of becoming a writer?"

I would formulate it another way around:
one should pursue or help pursuing a vocation...

And "a vocation" is something like a hobby and obsession that should be restricted, controlled rather than promoted

Olivia Clare said...

Great advice! You have a new subscriber molly! Your story and stories give me hope, thank you!

Razil Tahir said...

Thanks for such a great advice!
I just thought to be a writer!
And I really want to be one!
Wish me luck! XD

rbackes said...

Great writing Molly. I can tell because so many readers liked it, loved it, or were inspired by it. Writing may be it's own reward, but getting feedback that your creative efforts have had a positive influence on others is a spiritual benefit to be savored.

Humility isn’t the issue as much as using the praise as an affirmation of your skills. Store up confidence building experiences in order to have a reserve of self confidence available for life’s expected downturns. Obviously, not everyone can be pleased by a writer’s every production. Negativity will come.

I like both the humility and the confidence I read in your writing. Which brings me to parenting. Much of what you suggest for parents of nascent writers also applies, as one commenter wrote:
“…these suggestions sound like the perfect suggestions for RAISING a child, not just a writer.” (Linda Craig)

It’s about being supportive of your child, or friend, etc., which is about being loving, which is what it is all about, after all.

But then, I like how you said it better.

With admiration and love,

Roger


“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”
William Arthur Ward

mclicious said...

This is so wonderful. Thank you for writing it. I'm so lucky to have had parents who did just about all of these things for me.

Anonymous said...

Molly,
This afternoon, my 9 year old daughter says to my 4 yr old son, " I want to follow my dream." I asked her what it was. She replied to be a writer. She has always been the girl you described in this post. She has always had a notebook. She writes all the time. It wasn't until I searched what I could do for my kid that wants to be a writer and found your post did I truly understand how truly important all that writing has been for her and will be to shape her future. It also gave me insight. Thank you for posting.

Mel said...

So beautiful, and with each paragraph I could relate to those experiences. Thank you so much for this post. If I ever have a daughter in the future who loves to write, I will keep this post in mind. :)

Lydia said...

Brilliant article. I'm a teenage writer and what you've described sounds like the perfect life and attitude to me.

Anonymous said...

thank you for that