Sunday, July 14

on being a writer

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember.  In fourth grade I attempted my first novel, scrawling 53 pages in sparkly gel pen.  There was a creature who looked and acted suspiciously like Dobby [this was, after all, at the height of my Harry Potter obsession] and it's likely I had recently watched E.T. because the Dobby creature was in a basket covered with a white sheet.  Shockingly, the script never made it to print.

I remember deciding in fifth grade that I would be the youngest author to win a Newberry Award; I thought this a semi-accomplishable task, because I was aiming to be the youngest, not the best.  I knew best would be a harder, and more subjective, feat.  [I have to applaud my ability to make this distinction; at least I was a partial realist].

But here I am.  I am not working on a book and doubt that I ever will seriously work on a book, though I like to entertain the idea from time to time.  Wanting to be a writer is kind of like wanting to be a musician or actor.  It makes people feel sad for you and almost guarantees you'll end up in your parents' basement.  It's simultaneously sad and self-aggrandizing.

Which is why I hesitated to self-identify as a writer for the longest time.

But my students ask me if I am a writer.  And I've realized that I cannot say no, because that tells them they aren't, either.  If I say no, I haven't published a book, I am not a writer, that sends the message that writing is only writing if it's appreciated by a large audience.

I didn't become a teacher to send that message.  Writing serves a multitude of purposes, and we're all entitled to using it in a way that helps us individually.  Some write to express, others to discover, some--unfortunately--to wreak havoc.  It doesn't have to be perfectly polished to mean something.  It doesn't have to mean something to anyone but ourselves.

So, students: write away.

We are all writers.  And none of us needs to end up in our parents' basements.


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