Saturday, June 10, 2017

You'll Never Be a Writer

This is a line often included in one of those self-reported stories that people feel compelled to share when they discover they are talking to an English teacher. It's not quite as popular as those standards "I Always Hated English Class in High School" or "I Hate To Read" or the super-popular "I Guess I'll Have To Watch My Grammar When I'm Around You." Just today, someone once again summed up her experience by citing what someone, years ago, told her. "You'll Never Be a Writer."

"You'll Never Be a Writer" is different story because, first, it has nothing to do with feelings you had when you were younger, which are perhaps something adult you might want to keep to yourself (nobody of my age need proudly share that classic tale "The Year I Memorized the Shape of Farrah Fawcett's Right Breast in a Red Swimsuit"), nor does the story "You'll Never Be a Writer" include a thinly veiled prediction/criticism of someone's poor social behavior

Yeah, we had a lot to learn
"You'll Never Be a Writer" is a sad story of crushed dreams and truncated aspirations. But it's also wrong. Sometimes it's just meant as conversational filler, so I would hate to be that guy and correct someone who's just trying to make pleasantries (on the other hand, I am an English teacher and it's possible that I take great joy in correcting others at inappropriate moments). But here's the basic drift of what I have to say about this.

Now, YNBAW is sometimes a pronouncement on economic realties. "Writing," folks say,  "is not a real with which you can support a single grown human, let alone a whole family of them." I always assumed that I would write when I grew up, and I always assumed that I would never make enough to support myself, which was fine because I wanted to teach. I didn't care that I would never make serious money (anyone who wants to prove me wrong by giving me a lucrative book deal or syndication gig is welcome to contact me here). "Writing's very nice and all, " many a student and parent have said to me, "but you can't really make a living at it, can you?"

Well, yes and no. Writing the Great American Novel is not terribly lucrative, and creating the next Highly Profitable Property doesn't necessarily require great writing chops (looking at you, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown).

But if your goal is not to become a rich and famous fiction writer, other writing jobs exist. Virtually every specialized field in the world is primarily populated by people who know the field, but cannot communicate effectively about it. I have former students who became technical writers, nature writers, and sports writers. Being able to write is important to the writing life, but having a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about-- that's huge, too. When a student says, "Well, I'd really like to be a writer, but I really want to work in the widget industry, too," that student's solution is right in front of her.

"You'll Never Be a Writer" is wrong for other reasons as well, the most notable of which is that we are living in a text-based world. Thanks to the internet, we communicate more than ever via the written (typed) word. In both our work and personal worlds, it's now hugely important to be able to say just what you mean, and equally important to be able to read hat others write critically and carefully.

In the years ahead, you will write reports for your job. You will communicate with friends and family via text. You may very well court and couple with the use of text. If you enter politics, you will have to explain yourself through text. If you are an activist for a cause, some of your communication will be through text. Whatever it is you want to say, and whatever audience you want to say it to, you are likely to write it.

It may not bring fortune or fame. But it remains the best ways to communicate and store ideas and feelings across space and time. Much of human history has been spent searching for ways to record, transmit and store our various languages; digitizing it represents a new step forward in that process, meaning that the composing and arranging of that language has become even more important.

Regardless of what someone told you in some misguided attempt to crush your dreams or slap you upside the head with a cold, fishy slab or reality, they were wrong. Good or bad, inspired or flat, enthusiastic or grudging, because you are alive today, you are a writer. You will always be a  writer. Make the best of it you can, because you will always be a writer. Search for your voice and find your way, because like it or not-

You will always be a writer.

1 comment:

  1. This is just plain terrific. Insightful, funny and reassuring.