Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oh To Be Young Again

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What would I say to a high school kid with writing ambitions? First of all, you’re smarter than I ever was and I was no slouch. I’d actually say that to any kid coming out of high school today. Maybe it’s the internet or the ready access to computers (do you remember the computer room with three old models that only the “gifted” class could sign up for? I do). Maybe it’s the globalization of education. I’m rooting for that explanation. Or maybe it’s the introduction of community service requirements, senior thesis-like projects or access to college level course work while still in grade school but whatever it is, you, writer-child are already way ahead of the curve.

It’s not just that you are smarter than I was or am. It’s that you’ve already figured out a passion in your life. In high school, my sole focus was on getting into a really good college that didn’t bankrupt my parents. If you are in high school and thinking about something other than the practicalities of the next four or six or eight years, depending on your credential goals, you are once again way ahead of me. You are in fact, amazing to me.

Passion, something beyond interest, is a rare and fleeting thing. But it is the fire that is necessary to survive as a writer. Being able to articulate your desire, being willing to say them out loud, no matter what anyone else thinks about pragmatic grown up goals, nothing can be accomplished, not even the most mundane obvious life choices, without conscious choice. With a voice behind those choices, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can’t achieve as a writer. That voice becomes your voice and that passion radiates from every page you write.

I would encourage every high school student to recognize that their passion for writing needs brain food. There are more passions that can lead to better stories. If saving the planet is an idea that has somehow slipped onto the pages of your journal, take some environmental science classes. Understand the issues and then pick up your pen and make your case. If you’d rather be at the theater at night, write down what a critical assessment of the performances, adaptation, sets and experience before you lay your head down to sleep. I’m suggesting that you don’t wait for your life to start to begin writing about important things. I’m saying live and write about it. Right now. Write now.

I could give you the standard line of writing every day. It’s good advice even if a grocery list is all you manage. Like any passion, discipline can turn it into a career. But you don’t have to have a career to be a writer. There are entire blogs dedicated to this. There are people who will tell you you aren’t a writer until you’re published. There are those that draw a distinction between writer – a person who writes – and author – a person who makes a living as a writer. To me, a writer is someone with something to say who puts it on a piece of paper. An author is someone who lets others read what they write.

I feel truly blessed when anyone is prepared to share it with me. I read with a critical eye. It’s impossible not to once you’ve survived the editorial process involved in publication but I am pleased to say that I can still see genuine interest and real imagination, even when spell check would add a pleasing sheen to the finished work. So if you are a high school writer, take a deep breath, and trust someone with your words. It may be the hardest part of being a writer or an author whatever your definition. I know many people writing in shrouded bedrooms and under single bulbs at their kitchen table late at night or early in the morning before anyone can see. They are writers. But if you are a young writer, still able to stretch beyond expectations, take those hidden pages and offer them to someone. Become a writer with a reader. Start with someone you trust to support you even if they don’t agree with you. Choose someone who can see past grammar and experimental technique to the heart beneath. It’s great if that person can show you what would make your words more accessible to them but remember you don’t ever, EVER, have to make changes you don’t agree with. Listen, think, decide for yourself. Make that jump from writer to author. It’s like learning to swim as a baby. If you do it early enough, you’re an Olympian before you can even fathom fear of water. Be an author. Today.

The final thing I would say to a high school writer is good for you. It’s hard to be a writer. It’s really hard to say to your parents and friends and guidance counselor that you believe what you have to say is worth being written down. It’s so easy to get scared. It’s supposed to be scary. The good stuff always is. But you, high school writer, already exposing yourself to critical assessment and possible rejection, can take it. You have it in you to be extraordinary. I know it without ever having met you. Give me a chance to say ‘I told you so.’ Write. So I can read what you’ve written and continue to be awed. Just write.

Thanks for letting me read what you’ve written and letting me write for you.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Gabi. I'm sending it on to a family member, a hesitant high school writer. Great encouragement!

Shane Gericke said...

Here, here! I particularly like the comment about feeding yourself brain food. That is really true. Writing should not be an end unto itself, just a physical act of putting words in the right order. Writing should tell people about the world, meaning you need to understand it yourself.

Gabi said...

That is a great compliment. Thank you.

Gabi said...

I sometimes think the brain food is the most important part. Every time I'm blocked, I read something about something I know nothing about (there's a pretty big list) or go somewhere I haven't been or do something my mother would be horrified to know I've tried. That kind of fuel inevitably leaks onto a page somewhere.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

What an inspirational post, Gabi! I wish I'd read it when I was in high school. I'm passing it on to Mina and Troy, if I can figure out where they're "parked."

Truly lovely. Have you thought of sending it out to other blogs or magazines too?

Shane Gericke said...

Gabi, the stuff your mother would be horrified to see you do is the stuff most worth doing :-) And I second Rebecca's praise about this being so inspirational. You really should try to find a high-school oriented magazine or blog that would publish this.

Rebecca, I heard that Troy and Mina are in some corn field outside Milwaukee, steamin' up the windows and shakin' the car. Probably rehearsing their roles for King Lear in the senior play, and are, uh, emoting with vigour. I'm sure of it :-)

Gabi said...

I am going to send it out. Thanks for the encouragement.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Gabi, hooray! Keep us posted on its progress!