August 7

6 truths about writing I hope to teach my daughter

    14-08-07 writingdaughter
    There’s nothing like a birthday to make you wax reflective, right? This year, my birthday precedes my oldest child’s first day of school, so color me extra reflective. As my daughter begins to tell increasingly creative stories with her toy animals and form letters with thick crayons, I begin to think of what I hope to teach her about writing. And, yes, the picture here is of my daughter, coloring in the playroom of our home. Here are 6 truths about writing I hope to teach my daughter (although I believe they apply to everyone who puts words on a blank page):

    If you have a message that will touch someone else in this world, you are a writer.

    The world will tell you that only “certain” people are writers, people who can craft a good turn of phrase, people who can string together flowery words, people who know exactly where to put a comma. These people will draw sharp lines in the sand between “good” writers and “bad” writers.

    But, my daughter, I tell you that if you have something to say to another person, anything uplifting or beautiful or funny or strange or contemplative or interesting, and you choose to say it through words, you are a writer. Writing is nothing more than sharing a piece of your soul with another person through written words. And writing is nothing less.

    Write as though no one will judge you.

    Oh, yes, the world wants desperately to make you feel judged. Even beginning in this pre-kindergarten year, you will begin to hear the words, “Very good writing!” And you will want to continue to please your teachers. You will be so tempted to write for their approval, and your desire to please will grow deep within your soul, until you care less about what you are writing, and more about others’ judgements of your writing.

    But, my daughter, I want to tell you that your writing is most beautiful and valuable when it is a true expression of yourself. Write not to please other people; they’ll never be happy, and you’ll lose sight of your own worth. Instead, write for yourself and write for the people who will be changed by your writing. If you are writing a funny story, don’t worry that everyone will find it funny. Instead, write it only for the few people who you know will be tickled by your quirky sense of humor. If you are writing a poem of great sadness, don’t try to force a rhyme or rhythm for those harsh critics. Instead, write it only for those who know the great sadness of which you write.

    Yet, there will be times when you have to write for others.

    Teachers will dictate essays of certain length and a particular number of paragraphs, all scored on a very specific rubric. Test and applications will ask manipulative questions to probe your grammar skills. Bosses will require memos of standard formatting, and you may have to use the hedging language of corporations and law firms and medical releases. Journals will require articles of set style and an acceptable amount of jargon.

    But, my daughter, you must cultivate the wisdom to know that even when you are writing such pieces for others, there is a greater why. You may write a five-paragraph essay, but it is one piece of a lifelong education. You may constrain your application responses to 250 words, but perhaps the application will allow you into a school that feeds your soul. You may write memos that scarcely make sense to the lawyers who read them, but you will have your own purpose. You may write articles that are only read by your peers who review the article, but your research will be your own. Bring your creativity, clarity, and conviction into every piece of writing, as much as you can, but wisely and always in line with your deeper life’s purpose.

    Sometimes, it is painful to write.

    When you do carve out those spaces in life to write for yourself and for the benefit of others, the world will try to distract you from writing. The world will say that writing is too hard, takes too long, and isn’t worthwhile. But, really, the world is trying to distract you from feeling deeply and thinking honestly. Like so many of your peers, it will seem easier to check your social media, text your friends, or watch some mindless TV, rather than to sit quietly and write.

    But, my daughter, I know that you want so much more from life than easy entertainment and cheap comforts. You want to experience life to its depths and to its fullest. Writing is a beautiful way to stay connected to your truest self. Even if your favorite artistic medium is painting or dancing or (for heaven’s sake) creating musical mash-ups, know that making time to write is making time for your soul to breathe. I would encourage you to spend a few minutes every week writing, even if it’s only for yourself and you never show the words to another soul. Writing allows you to sit quietly and talk to yourself. When you are connected to your authentic self, you will be centered, calm, peaceful. Remember when I said that if you have a message that would benefit someone else, then you are a writer? Well, sometimes that “someone else” is actually yourself. Mystery of mysteries.

    If you decide to make a living from writing, it is a long and difficult road, but the journey is so worthwhile.

    The world will tell you that if you’re a gifted writer, you can write 50,000 words, submit to a publisher, get a contract and an advance, and live off royalties for the rest of your life. But the fickle world will be just as quick to warn you that if you’re not a gifted writer, you’ll be cleanly and flatly rejected by every publisher and you’ll never make a dime as a writer. For the world, success as a writer is so very black and white.

    But, my daughter, I want you to know that being a successful writer is neither clear nor easy. Only you can decide whether you are a writer. No one will pick you out of the crowd and say, “You, yes you, are a writer.” Being a writer is a choice that only you can make, and it’s a choice you must make every day that you rise and put fingers to keyboard.

    And, yes, my daughter, you may spend many days looking at a blank screen. You will have many moments of uncertainty. You may constantly wonder whether your writing is valuable at all, whether you are valuable.

    Maybe you will make money. Maybe you won’t make much money. Perhaps you will write in the early mornings before your children wake. Perhaps you will write on your lunch break between dull, corporate meetings. Perhaps you will write late at nights, after a long day of draining work.

    What is most important is that you write for your truest self and that you pursue your craft with diligence and passion, even in the margins of life. This journey of writing is not easy, but it is so worthwhile.

    Most of all, learn to bask in the present moment. Dream of the future, but always appreciate what is in front of you right now.

    If you choose to be a writer, I will love you, no matter how much money you make from your words. If you choose not to be a writer, I will love you just as much. Whoever you are, I will always love you because you are my daughter – no more, no less. For now, let’s enjoy your wild narratives that take place between your toys and the zig-zaggy lines that come from the blunt tips of your crayons because they are an expression of your truest four-year-old self, and that’s what matters.

    If you would give such encouragement to a young writer in your life, please share this on social media, or maybe even email this article directly to her. You never know how she may be inspired. (Of course, all of this speaks just as much to sons and men.)

    What other advice would you give to the young writer in your life? Leave a comment below, and help gather wisdom for the next generation.

    Oh, and one last picture of my daughter because I can. It's a drawing of a zebra – can't you tell?
    14-08-07 zebra


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