Monday, May 2, 2016

I Don't Care If You Wanted to Be a Writer as a Kid

Package from The Letter writers alliance
Flickr Credit: missus manukenkun
Maybe it’s because I spent the weekend in my grandpa’s house, maybe it’s because I respond to my big long list of pet peeves… Maybe it’s because I am judgmental, malevolent, and hypocritical, but whatever:

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.

What do you think it takes to be a writer, other than factors of age?


10 comments :

  1. Wow...maybe they just want to express that they had a love of writing that they felt at an incredible early age....?

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    1. I've never seen that happen, but I'll take your word for it.

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  2. Ahh I completely agree that age doesn't matter when it comes to writing. COMPLETELY. Although I had to learn that... XD I got really hung-up over the fact that I hadn't published as a teen. It was my #1 dream. Gah, but I a) wasn't ready for it anyway, and b) it just didn't happen. Now I am so so glad, ermagerd. Writing is about a journey of improvement and every year I write and write and write -- I GET BETTER. So it's not about age, so much as how long and how hard you work: exactly what you said. ;D

    I actually haven't met anyone who was bragging about writing since they were half the size of a string bean though. xD I can imagine it'd be a bit annoying. I was writing -- ERM STEALING -- fairy tales when I was 5. But that doesn't count?!? Like what kid who likes vaguely likes book doesn't try to "write" at some point?! hehe.

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    1. Yes, I think that is a goal many writers aspire to, but then I appreciate your recognition of knowing you weren't ready. I mean, I don't want to disparage teen writers but whether by lack of life experience or writing experience or whatever, I feel like so many aren't ready... I mean, applause for getting published, but also it's okay if that doesn't happen.

      I've known a few people. I don't know. It's just something I've noticed, especially among younger writers, and I felt compelled to blog about it. XD

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  3. I've never really thought about this. To be honest, when people wrote this, it made me feel kinda bad. Sure, I started writing when I was ten, but still, I only started writing properly when I was 14 because I started to become serious.

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    1. *nods* I completely get that. To some extent, it's just another way to one-up your fellow writers in a somewhat pointless competition. Regardless of young age, though, I don't think it matters all that much.

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  4. Haha, the sass was strong in this post.

    I of course agree. I feel like we writers spend way to much time creating our identities as writers instead of just writing.

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    1. XD I was in the mood.

      Ah, yes. And the identity is very little if it isn't accommodated by good writing...

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  5. I feel this in the deepest corners of my judgmental heart. We all wrote stories in Primary school, because we were told to. At some point or another, children experiment with different things, and most children write stories, use legos and have a 'shop'.

    I love this post. It doesn't matter how long you've been writing, or when you started, what matters is that you write.

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    1. XD Yay judgment! But yeah, it seems like people are trying to make something special when it is not always special.

      :) Agreed!

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