My friend Billy writes excellent creative non-fiction exploring the spiritual underpinnngs of ordinary life. Yesterday, he wrote about his five-year-old son's wish to be a writer when he grew up. You can read that post here.
I share Billy's mixed feelings about having a child who wants to be a writer.
When my daughter was five, she stated that she wanted to be an "offer who writes books." She has since moved on to aspire to own a bakery or become a sushi chef at the grocery store. Nonetheless, her behavior bears the telltale signs of latent writerdom. She composes little stories on the computer. She loves words, especially unusual or funny words like "uglicize." She reads beyond her grade level and most importantly, she has a powerful interior life. When we ride around in the van together, she does not keep up a running monologue. Instead, she lapses into periods of silence during which her mind travels far and wide. These silences usually end with random questions or statements. "Mom, how do they make stoves?" "Mom, is it OK to have bullies in a play?"
Writers know how writers think. Whether it comes through nature, nurture, or both, we can recognize the writing mind when we see it. My daughter has the writing personality. She doesn't know it yet, and I'm certainly not going to push her into it and risk killing her love for it.
So what is a real writing personality? Well, part of it is a kind of separateness from the world. I don't mean alienation. It's more like a deep independence that resists easy answers--a mind that goes searching for meaning whether its owner likes it or not. When I go to writers' conventions, it's almost shocking to see this same independence and interiority looking out at me from (almost) every face. I occupy the more social end of the writers' spectrum. I've found that my role at conferences is often to pull people out of their silent rumination at meals and get them talking to one another. But when they do start talking, oh, the fascinating and honest things they will say!
That independence makes writers capable of living out the greatest constant in the writing life: solitary thought and effort.
It's not always easy. There are times when I think of how much simpler my life would be if I were not a writer. I could spend more time with my friends and family, go to more happenings about town, watch more TV and movies, do all the things people do with their free time.
But I don't think I would be happy.
Writing allows me to live ten lives in the the time I would otherwise have lived one. After sharing the rich experience of my characters during the heights and depths of the greatest moments of their lives, I can't imagine not writing.
I have to admit that if I had a constant supply of the kind of novels I like to read, I probably would sit around consuming them instead of writing. But that ain't gonna happen. I don't like standard category fiction. I don't like standard literary fiction. I'm picky, and my punishment for it is that I myself have to write the type of novel I like.
Authors have been my best friends throughout my life--never fickle, never too busy to talk to me, radically democratic and unconcerned with the status of whoever is holding their book at any given time. Writing for its own sake is a generous act, an offering of communion and fellowship, and that's why it is good for the soul. (One of my critique partners and I talked the other day about the most common flaw in novels, which is writing for oneself instead of writing for others. Novels written for the sake of their author fall flat unless the reader happens to share exactly the same areas of self-rationalization and desire--a rare occurrence, what with the infinite variety of psychological profiles in the world.)
I don't care if my daughter ever wants to be published, or if she writes fiction or nonfiction. I just know that writing is the greatest blessing I've ever received, always a comfort to me even when nothing else seems to be going right. Despite the sacrifices that writing entails, I want my daughter to have this blessing too.