“Uncle Dan, what did you want to be when you grew up?” My nephew’s words tore into me, reminding me of people who had stood in my way urging me to do sane sensible things. “Go out into the world and get a real job!” “Do something useful.” “Working for a living is honorable.”
“There’s no money in writing,” he said. “It’s a waste of time,” said another. “Who has time to read?”
My nephew looked at me curiously. He was still waiting for an answer. What could I tell him? I began as I believed I should, honest and straight forward. “I always wanted to be a writer and I waited until now to begin.”
In the early evening Cicadas were saturating the air with a steady din and it continued even after the stars began poking through the black velvet sky. I’d listen and try to imagine a far away planet where strange creatures buzzed about giant cities. As the animal kingdom came to life small animals in desperate flight raced to stay ahead of their pursuers. The chasers were relentless. A scream, then silence. Another hunter had made a kill. The actions were out of sight and sudden, but I could imagine even the smallest details.
My thoughts would drift back to space where my other world existed. My imagination was rife with possibilities. Were larger animals chasing smaller prey just like the ones I knew about, or did the smaller animals control the larger ones?
My dreams were filled with stars and planets and my travels were swift. After hours of dreams, I would wake early in the morning. I would bounce out of bed, get dressed, and go outside ready to be immersed in new adventures. But sometimes my dreams didn’t stop on time.
“Danny, wake up! You’re wasting time. There are animals to feed and chores to do.” My brother’s voice stirred me to action. A few minutes later the cows were contented again, eating oats and hay. The pigs were fed and after scattering corn for the chickens I went inside and cleaned up for school. I could hardly wait to tell my friends about the sounds of night and my imaginary planets.
As part of our seventh grade English class Miss Brown often let us decide what we wanted to write about. Then she looked directly at me. “Nothing about planets and stars or stories about aliens or animals. Write about things you do during the day.”
I wanted to protest but I knew Miss Brown would stand her ground. Many times she had told me, “Write about the things you know, not the things you imagine. Start over, Danny, and this time please follow directions.”
After many attempts at describing real things, Miss Brown and I finally agreed upon a compromise. If I wrote and satisfied her requirements, I could write sci-fi and fantasy stories. In order to get my needs met I had to write more. Although my production increased, the quality of my writing didn’t.
“Your writing isn’t good enough,” Miss Brown told me. “Don’t quit your day job.”
At conference time she told my parents I daydreamed too much. “I don’t think he can be good enough to become a successful writer. Guide him towards the trades. That’s where the money is.”
Throughout high school my teachers reminded me, “Very few authors became famous. Many of them suffered through bouts of depression. Some died young and others died poor. You have some potential but get a job that pays a steady income.”
In college writing was on a collision course with literature. One professor ranted, “Read every story seven times and squeeze it for meaning. Otherwise you’ll never learn how to write.” Because of him and other like minded souls I decided that newspaper writing was the way to achieve success. But times were hard and over the next ten years several newspapers folded or consolidated for financial reasons. Jobs were hard to find and harder to keep.
“Get out of the newspaper business,” a crusty old reporter barked. “Writing doesn’t pay very much but it steals your soul.”
By then I had become an English teacher, although I still freelanced for small magazines. I continued to produce articles just for my vanity. I was not the only educator who dabbled with poetry or stories. Education was packed with aspiring writers with distinguished backgrounds. “You’re nothing special,” I was told. “Other writers are ten times better than you.”
I joined writing groups but even there the news was grim. “If you submit your stories or novels to publishers, expect to get rejection slips. Even the famous authors were rejected enough to paper the walls of their houses.”
Years passed and technology changed. Now older and wiser, I decided to write for fun and to entertain. If someone actually liked what I wrote, it would be good for my self-esteem. I became a blogger. There were a few followers but mostly I wrote for myself. I wrote stories and poetry but I didn’t really know how to entertain. I didn’t know how to add music and color. All I had was words.
As I look back I still have not achieved my goals nor have I satisfied my soul. I still write because I want someone to understand that life is more than video games and TV. Perhaps I also write because I want to learn more before I die. As I write, my understanding becomes deeper and sharper but I think I’d have to be immortal in order to become a good writer. I still have so much to learn and so much to describe. Life is real. Life is earnest. Life is too short.
I looked at my nephew. “I’m still growing up,” I said. “I’ve only changed on the outside.”
- The peculiar work of a writer (writeaubreywrite.wordpress.com)
- Overcome Writer’s Block … With Poetry (clurradonald.com)
- Learn to Write by Actually Writing (anthonydejoldewriter.com)
- Read this article. Rewrite it. Throw out your draft and write something else. Throw that out, too. (wewhoareabouttodie.com)
- It’s a Real Job (wordsmithsix.wordpress.com)
- 21 Tips About Writing From Twitter (worddreams.wordpress.com)
- Writers on how they write: Hilary Mantel (gointothestory.blcklst.com)
- End of Summer Musings: Writing, Life, and Being a Nerd (aserendipitoushappenstance.wordpress.com)
- Writing Under the Influence of Ourselves (theatlanticwire.com)
- Duty of Care (justinelarbalestier.com)