|Flickr Credit: missus manukenkun|
I hate when people act like the early age they started writing is important.
Seriously. My grandpa did this; he bragged that he wrote his first poem at age five and his mother saved it in his baby book. But I’ve seen plenty of people do this. They’re like, “I left the womb with words in my heart and a pen in my hand—I’ve been writing ever since! From my birth on I’ve been obsessed with words and art and stories and love and cotton candy and rainbows and unicorns! Yay!”
Wow, I didn’t know I was standing in the presence of a child prodigy. Let me kiss the dirt at your feet for a little while, and I’ll see whether I feel like singing your praises or standing in the awe of your presence after that.
Okay, okay. Usually the things people say are less definite and less weird. People often begin their writing lives between the ages of five and ten, when kids make headway in reading, writing, and grasping story concepts. Also, most people aren’t trying to shove it in your face; it’s just a point of pride. Even if they want to get extra writer points for having been one so long, it isn’t intended to be hurtful.
But I hate it anyway.
When people reference their days as a child writer, they act like it was a sign, a prophecy that writing was their one true path—their CALLING. Cue the choir of angels.
I’m sorry to rain on the mystical parade, but one single childhood activity doesn’t mean much to who you are for the rest of your life.
Yes. I bet some construction workers and architects played with building blocks as kids. I bet some paleontologists played with dinosaurs, and some businesspeople pretended to sell plastic fruit to their little brothers in fake kitchens. I bet some teachers played school with their dogs after coming home every day.
And yeah, there are writers who liked to write stories when they were little, too. Myself included.
I still have pieces of writing from when I was in kindergarten up through second grade. That isn’t much to brag about, though—every other kid in my class had the same assignments.
(NOOOO HEATHER!!! We were special because we wrote stuff without being encouraged by teachers or parents!!! We made writing our own!!! Uh-huh. Yeah, I forgot that stories prompted by outside influences or written for a specific audience don’t count. Silly me.)
I liked to write stories. So what? I liked playing with building blocks with my cousin on Christmas Eve, I love(d) playing house with plastic dinosaurs, I played house and kitchen and saleslady on my back porch, and my two younger sisters were my pupils on more than one occasion because, goshdarnit, I was going to teach them something.
Is it possible that my childhood writing led me to being the writer I am now? I guess. Was it a sign that I was meant for it more than construction work, architecture, paleontology, business, or teaching? Not at all.
I’m not a writer because I produced a Bob book as a youngling. Neither are you.
It says nothing about us as writers now. Whether you started at six or sixteen, it probably doesn’t matter. Unless you maintained the writing caprices of a six-year-old. That would be amusing.
It doesn’t say how long we’ve been working. Your skill as a writer boils down to how hard you’ve worked, how long you’ve worked that hard (go ahead and tell me you were bestselling novelist material at age six. Go ahead and tell me), and how long you’re going to do it. If you’re a teen writer, chances are you started showing that you might be good at this job as a teen, not when you were eight, because that’s when you committed to editing and revising.
It doesn’t make us better writers. It doesn’t. Some people started writing in high school, and there’s no need to act like you’re all that because you’ve been writing “six years” longer than them. And, for that matter, it doesn’t always show anything. I’ve read of people who started writing when they were maybe eleven or twelve and publish something by the time they’re eighteen—and they publish complete crap. Time alone does not quality make.
We enter the world as writers in phases. Our “baby writer” phases begin at different times and last different lengths, but really our writing identities matter because of who we are after that phase. If you’re a bad writer, justifying its quality with the age you started out isn’t going to help. That is all.