I got a Facebook message from a woman who said her granddaughter has “her heart set on being a writer.” Said granddaughter is always writing in her journal and writing poems and stories. Grandmother wants to know if I have any advice or tips she can pass on to her granddaughter.
Sometimes I think there’s more advice out there about writing than there is actual writing. Do a Google search on writing advice and you’ll get list after list of tips from famous authors. From Elmore Leonard’s “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” to Hemingway’s “The first draft of everything is shit” to Toni Morrison’s “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” to Flannery O’Connor’s “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
What could I possibly add to the advice genre from such famous, prize-winning authors?
I looked back at how the grandmother described her granddaughter’s habits: that her heart is set on being a writer and she’s always writing in her journal and writing poems and stories.
I realize this young writer doesn’t need any advice. If she has her heart set on being a writer and is always writing, she already has pretty much everything she needs. The grit, the fortitude, the resilience, the unyielding dedication will all follow.
The grandmother seemed disappointed in my response, because what she was really asking is how can her granddaughter become a successful, best-selling author—which is not remotely the same thing as being a writer. Once upon a time, many years ago, one of my professors, after praising my work and encouraging me as a writer, in the next breath added this sentiment: Don’t ever expect to make a living as a writer.
Sure, that’s practical advice, but I would prove to be the exception, I thought. After all, I was young and he’d just praised me. Plus I had no clue what else to do with my life. And yet, the advice proved to be sound, although I have no regrets, and any decision other than being a writer would have turned out much worse for me.
I think Kurt Vonnegut said it best:
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”Kurt Vonnegut
But I’m not ready to say that to a young writer, or her grandmother.