Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. ISBN: 9780380789023.
The introductions of Gaiman's works are always worth reading. He's such a fantastic and interesting individual that I can't get enough of his writing. He's the kind of person whose head I would love to live inside. Those of you who know me well know I have a somewhat interesting head to live inside of as well, particularly when it's late at night or early in the morning and my control over my mouth is reduced to nil. Yes, my filter turns off at midnight.
Anyway, as I was reading the introduction to Smoke and Mirrors I came across this quote, "When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make thigns up, warning me of what would happen if I did. As far as I can tell so far it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning." - Page 2.
It got me to thinking about my own ambitions as a child of 13 when I first started writing, mostly angsty poetry which seems to be the forte of every 13-16 year old child.
My mother and I had a tentative relationship at that time, I thought I knew what was best for me, and in some cases I even turned out to be right. I think this is probably the hardest thing for a parent to learn from their child, that they no longer know what will make their child happiest, safest, or healthiest. I initially had ambitions to become a writer. I wrote prolifically, mostly during school which I did not find particularly challenging or interesting academically. I kept that interest all the way into my senior year of high school, but my mother was worried that I wouldn't be able to make a living as a writer, and although she was probably correct I still wish she had kept her mouth shut.
I am not saying that she shouldn't have encouraged me to add other skills besides writing to my repetoir, but I wish she had also encouraged me to continue writing and had allowed me to at least consider a degree in creative writing. I likely would have still ended up in the same position I'm in now, unemployed with a Master's degree and writing a blog into empty air, but maybe I would also have something to keep me company and a drive to create.
I did take writing classes in college, and they both helped me immensely in my academic career. In poetry class I learned to let go of words. I would write poems and rewrite them, and other than certain phrases or thoughts I would create completely new poems from the old. The memoir class helped me reflect on how my past made me who I am and how to perfectly capture a moment in time, something I hadn't learned up until that point. Sadly looking back at my writing style in those days make me cringe, I was so young and had no idea what I was talking about. It's like 18 is the new 16 only worse because you can look back at how stupid you were at 16 and think you've gotten over it. At 25 I realize I'm always going to be stupid.
I do think if my mother had encouraged me a little more to keep up with my writing. I think I may have made more progress and really grown into my talent. I don't know if I would have been the next Neil Gaiman, I somehow doubt it, but I may have had a chance to make an impact on my generation or future generations by what I left behind. And maybe that's more important to me than she realized since I'm not planning to have children.
What I want to tell you, you future parents or mentors: if a young person tells you they want to be a writer, don't scrunch up your face and hmph and harrumph. Don't tell the child that writing is impractical and they should focus their pursuits on something more "worthwhile." Writing isn't about practicality, but is worthwhile. Think of some of the novels you've read over your many years and what they've meant to you. I can think of at least four or five that have become a deep part of who I am and I can't help but think that the author's efforts were more than worthwhile if their work touched me that deeply. So please, do not, do not, do not discourage your child from writing. They could very well change my life.
PS: for those of you who saw this post early, I was cheating. I'm currently on the road and wrote this on March 30, 2010. I apologize for any doubling in your RSS feed. Consider it a sneak preview, you lucky dogs.