At first I didn’t know what I was going to write about for this month’s guest post, and then tonight the most wonderful thing happened: I got an email from my nephew Tom asking me to give him feedback on a short story he wrote. And after a brief moment of wondering where the hell all the years have gone–I used to change this kid’s nappies. How does he possibly have email?–I agreed to read his story.
When I was a kid and writing terrible and meandering stories in the back of my school exercise books, I didn’t have the courage to show them to anyone for a really long time. I think I still have some of those exercise books around somewhere. When I was eleven I decided to write a poem to rival Hiawatha, an ambition that was surprisingly easy to fulfill given that I’d only decided it had to be as long as Hiawatha, not as good. Lucky, because it was bloody awful. I’ve still got it somewhere, because twelve-year-old me worked really hard on that. If every failure is a learning experience, then holy hell, I must have learned a lot from that!
Another terrible story I wrote around the same time is typed out and stuck into a notebook. This is because instead of typing lines in typing class, I wrote my story. And it’s an awful, awful story. There’s a prince, there’s an evil uncle who usurps him, and he seems to spend the rest of the time escaping only to be caught again. Really, by the second or third time, shouldn’t his uncle just kill him?
That’s the fun in writing when you’re a kid though. You’re not original, you’re probably not that good, but you’re still doing something amazing: you’re creating a world when there wasn’t one before. That’s the value in art, even in bad art. Maybe especially in bad art.
I have a filing cabinet full of writing that I started when I was around twelve, and continued when I was an angsty overwrought teenager, and then a pretentious young woman who thought she knew everything. Sometimes I go through them and I find the germ of an idea that can be salvaged from all the dreck. Sometimes I think I should dump the lot of it, but it was important to me. Writing has always been more than a hobby. It’s been a compulsion for a long time. For longer than I’ve been competent at it anyway.
I think my notes back to Tom were longer than his story in the end, but I want him to love writing as much as I do. I want him to know that it’s something he can do, and that it’s something he can always share with me. Writing brings me joy, even when I’m simultaneously tearing my hair out about it, and I want him to realize it can bring him joy too.
And Tom’s story? Here’s how I ended my comments: This is a fun story, and you did a great job with it. I will read your debut post-apocalyptic evil robot novel when you write it!
And I’ll make everyone else read it too.