to the parents of the future writers of America…

I often hear from young readers asking my advice about how they can become an author, but yesterday, the question came from a different angle. The mother of a talented teen writer wrote in asking my advice.

She wrote “I need some advice (please)…… My teenage daughter writes beautifully and her teachers are saying she should consider a future in journalism or writing etc. When I try to discuss this with her all I manage to get is “I hate to write”. Did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a writer/author? How do I cultivate such a gift without turning her away from it? You know how it is when you are a teenager, the more your mother wants you do something the less you want to do it.”

My first thought was that I’d love to have coffee with this mom. She’s she’s probably a little overanxious about her daughter’s future, but most parents are, and besides, this mom is reaching out for some information. How cool is that?

So I wrote back: “I have a strong opinion about this, so brace yourself.

Leave her alone. Please!

I had no idea I was going to be an author when I was in high school. I didn’t major in English or creative writing or journalism (though I wound up working at newspapers for years). But I found my path. If my parents had dragged me to this path, I can guarantee that I would never have become an author.

There are countless ways your daughter’s gift can unfold. Please give her the space to explore them on her own. Fill your home with books, art, music, and good food, and keep the “You Must Be A Writer” pressure locked out.

If she does become a writer, please don’t turn her bedroom into a guest room, because she’ll probably move back home to save money.”

She, in turn, wrote back a very nice note thanking me.

I wish I could take some of that mother’s enthusiasm about her daughter’s talents and sprinkle it on the parents who discourage their kids’ artistic dreams.

Come celebrate Banned Book Week with me tonight! Join me in downtown Syracuse where the Onondaga County Library System is hosting a reception for and presentation by Carolyn Mackler, author of wonderful books like The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, and Vegan Virgin Valentine. The reception starts at 5:30pm, and Carolyn speaks at 6pm.

17 Replies to “to the parents of the future writers of America…”

  1. I just have to add: if a child does like to write, they shouldn’t be forced into journalism as a natural career choice. I started my career as a journalist and let me tell you, very little of it is about writing. It’s more about hanging out at accident scenes, trying to get police and grieving relatives to talk with you, going to long city council meetings, digging through public records, and trying to stay on top of the latest “scoop” before the TV news gets it and your editor shows up at your desk wondering what you’ve been doing with your day. It’s about getting calls at 11 p.m. from copy editors wanting to check your facts and working holidays. People who make great journalists are not always the best writers. Rather they are people who have a burning need to uncover information and find out what’s really going on and expose the nasty underbellies of their local and national power structures. Which, now that I think of it, aren’t bad traits for an author to have. But I can’t say I was all that fulfilled as a writer while I worked as a reporter. I’ve found more of that spark in advertising.

  2. I would also love to have coffee with this mother.

    My family tried almost everything to discourage me when I realised I enjoyed writing at twelve. They refused to read anything I wrote and instead advised me to become a teacher or lawyer, two occupations I was (and still am) wholly unsuited for. With the hindsight of having lived away from home for several years, I can now see that they were trying to prepare me for the realities of a writer’s life, but they were realities I already knew and accepted so it was kind of a moot point.

    An Irish writer living up the road from us allowed me to interview him for a careers project in my teens and he was surprised that I was already resigned to most likely never making a living from writing, but I still wanted to try. He asked my mother a few years later when I was in college if I was still writing away and was astonished to learn that I was.

    No one in my family reads anything I write even now, but I’m still working away and hoping to start querying early next year. The odds of actually succeeding make me feel a little ill, but I’ll never know unless I try. If my family had been over-enthusiastic, I probably would have got an inflated ego out of the whole thing, so there’s a silver lining to everything, I suppose.

  3. Your response was fantastic! When I was a kid, writing felt like my only shelter, and if my parents had tried to get involved, even with the best intentions, I would have felt completely invaded. I had a mom once ask — “My daughter likes to write, but she doesn’t let me read it. Is that normal?” For a second I flashed back to twelve year old me and thought about stamping my foot and screeching “That writing is PRIVATE!” But I didn’t. I told her that right now her daughter was growing the roots of her writing, and just like a plant we don’t get to the see the roots. We have to wait for the flower to bloom. What I didn’t add was – but that’s only IF your daughter decides to show you what she’s growing. It’s her choice. But I held my tongue.

  4. I second this! I loved to write in HS, so I started out in journalism classes in college, and after my first journalism class I realized how much I didn’t like harassing people for interviews or details or asking the victims of a house fire what it felt like to lose all their posessions.

    I switched to Creative Writing and was much happier! I ended up in legal publishing after college, but was still writing fiction on my own time. Many ppl with the passion for writing will make the time to do it on their own time.

    P.S. If I wasn’t leaving for Vegas, I’d so be heading to Syracuse!

  5. Cool letter…
    I’d have to say, my parents arent the most supportive about me going to college to be an art teacher (um and my mom is one..?) “Be an X-ray technician! They make tons of money too!” Umm…… thanks?

  6. What wonderful advice you gave the mom! I imagine that daughter will thank you a million times over years later.

    If she does become a writer, please don’t turn her bedroom into a guest room, because she’ll probably move back home to save money.
    Haha, yes, as I type this from my parents’ bedroom… 🙂

  7. Hello Laurie

    It’s the mom here. I’d love to have coffee with you too. I think it is so important for moms to network and be supportive of one another.

    I also want to say thank you to everyone for giving their thoughts with respects to my question yesterday. We parents can use all the advice we can get with respects to raising the modern day teenager.

    You are right when you said that I am a little over anxious about my daughter’s future. I think I am also going through the normal parental insecurities of raising a teenager. I keep thinking, will my actions or lack there of cause us to revisit all these issues in therapy when she is 30? I guess only time will tell. 🙂 Until then I am just going to love her and support her the best I know how.

  8. I COMPLETELY understand what you are going through. Our daughters are 23, 22, and about to turn 21.

    And we have a 16 year old son.

    I think you’re on the right track because you care a lot. Good luck!

  9. Very cool, Laurie! The other thing I always think is that people need to write about _something_ and whatever this daughter does will give her that _something_ if she does decide to she wants to write. Also, if she’s a good writer, she may back into it because so many people out there in the work force are not good writers and therefore those reports to the bigwigs become the job of the people who can write.

  10. If the daughter is a good writer, chances are she will get into it sooner or later…some of us never figure out that is what we want to do until we have done a lot of other things in our lives first…and that is okay. There is a time and place for everything. Even though I wrote in High School, I never did anything with it except always be the one to write the organization’s newsletters. Then at 50 something happened and I found that I could write and wanted to. So I’m guessing she will get there when the time is right for her…good advice to back off and let her find writing in her own way.

  11. Nice to see my mom isn’t the only one

    From the time I was little my mom has encouraged me to pursue my art. I wanted to join the Army and serve in the medical core. Then after I retired from the military I was going to open a small family practice in a rural area where there wasn’t much medical care. I pursued the goal/dream until the year before I graduate from college. My senior year of college my brother convinced me to write on the paper with him. That’s where I learned I could string to words together and actually enjoyed doing it.
    A few years ago I sat down and wrote the first really crappy draft of the YA novel that I still need to go back and finish editing/revising/polishing. But my mom has been there every step of the way encouraging me. And more recently when I rediscovered my love of photography, she’s been encouraging that as well. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a teenager, or even in my early-twenties when I was in college. But now it’s kind of nice to be on the same side.

  12. As a former teenage daughter I just wanted to tell you that I didn’t appreciate my mom until a couple years ago. We fought like cats and dogs straight through college. But just before I graduated I went through a really rough spot and as usual she was there for me. It was just that I finally realized it. I’m 30 now and my mom is one of my best friends and definetly one of my biggest supporters. She may not show it now, but down the road I’m sure she will. Lets face it being a teenager sucks.

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