Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So you think you want to write?

What would you tell a high school kid who wants to write?


by Rebecca Cantrell


OK, I’ve decided to name my high schooler. Her name in Mina, because that’s the main character in my YA novel and so she’s the high schooler I hang out with the most. Thanks, Mina, for wanting to carry on the tradition of the written word. It takes a special high schooler to recognize that and make it a goal.

Writers read. Writers have to love to read. And they have to do lots of it. One of the things that I hate the most about being a published writer is that I don’t have as much time to read books as I used to. When I was a kid and a teenager I was constantly holed up someplace with my nose in a book (I still am whenever I get a chance). Turns out, it’s all research and practice, not daydreams and time wasting. It's my JOB.



Writers write. Lots of people talk about being writers or what they are writing. But a real writer writes, and a lot of the time. Words on the page stack up into books. Words in the air don’t. It’s fun to talk about writing, and there are a ton of things you will do that aren’t writing that still contribute to the book. But it all comes back to words on a page.


I hate to tell you this, Mina, but it’s tough to make money as a writer. In most careers you can learn your craft and work very hard and you will be financially rewarded. Writing, like most art, isn’t always like that. Money is important for food, shelter, and peace of mind. You can either figure out how to earn more or how to make do with less. But don’t get in the writing for the money as it’s statistically unlikely to follow. Still, I know you're tough enough to persevere in that face of that. You've thrown down with vampires. The publishing industry, while sometimes perceived as similar, is not that bad.
Have fun. That whole tortured writer myth? Way overworked. I know a lot of happy and well adjusted writers. You don’t need to drink, do drugs, engage in complicated sexual dramas or perform other high risk acts to become a writer. You can simply enjoy doing it. You don’t have to act like every edit is a cut that wounds your soul. You can view them as ways to help your work read better, clearer, and more true. I love to write. I love to edit. I love to cut and add and re-vision. It’s not always easy, but I have a really great time.
Good luck, Mina! And know that many other writers will be there to help you along the way. Including me.

17 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

I love all your encouraging words to Mina, Rebecca. I think there's some kind of vision of writers as tortured, rich, isolated beings (which might be a kind of scary image for a high school kid to contemplate). Thanks for setting the record straight. Wish I'd had you as my mentor when I was fifteen!

Bill Cameron said...

Can I make a confession here? I am mystified by all the authors who lament that becoming published resulted in reading less.

I read at least as much now as I did in 2007, the year my first book was published, and probably more because I've had the privilege of meeting a lot of writers and I want to read their stuff. About the only time my reading tapers off is right around new book launch time, maybe a few weeks or a month, but I tend to make up for it at other times of the year.

Sounds like this is just me, but in terms of optional activities I am willing to give up as a published author, reading isn't just last on the list, it's not even on that list. A love of reading is too foundational in why I write in the first place. Why would having books in print mean I'd read less? Not only would I worry reading less would hurt me as a writer, I know it would make my life far less satisfying.

I don't get it.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Great post, Becky!! You make really good points for the aspiring writers out there.

I'll just wave a little tattered flag for the tortured souls. If you already are one - and I know you, I see you every day when I drive over to the high school to pick up my kids, you with your sad face and your lank hair in your eyes and your weird clothes, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other and waiting for the light to change - if that's you, just know that I think you are wonderful just as you are and you don't have to "cheer up" no matter how many times your mom tells you to, and you wouldn't necessarily be prettier if you'd just smile like your relatives tell you (you're beautiful the way you are, scowl and all) and you might just want to pick up a pencil or laptop and start writing down everything you're thinking. Because I bet it's splendid.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Meredith! I wish I'd know then what I know now (is that a country song?). I was so sure that successful writers suffered over every word and drank like fish and probably committed suicide when I was a teen because that's what I heard about: Hemingway, Faulkner, Capote, Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker. Of course there must have been other, stable and happy, writers that just didn't make the news.

It took me years to have the fun that I could have had writing from the very first day.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hey Bill! I definitely read more diverse books and a lot more research material, but I don't have time to read as much for pleasure as I did before. Between writing two series (and maintaining two identities), doing promotion, plus my regular mom job (and occasional freelance technical writing), I don't have the time I used to. I'm glad to hear that you find the time. Maybe when my son is older, or I get Kevin on the job...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hey Sophie! Thanks for pointing out that there is nothing wrong with those who come to writing tortured or are tortured by writing. But I think so much press has been given to the tortured alcoholic writer that I wanted to point out that you don't have to follow that path. There are other, just as legitimate, paths to take.

Shane Gericke said...

Sophie, I want you as my mom! My folks were great, but didn't quite get the kid who loved to crawl into a clothes closet and read by flashlight for hours cause the cave shut out the whole world except for the book. You would have understood ... and crawled into the closet with your own flashlight!

Rebecca, love your letter to Mina. I'll bet she adores you.

Shane Gericke said...

Oh, and Rebecca, when does your YA come out? Is there a title yet?

Terry Stonecrop said...

"You don’t need to drink, do drugs, engage in complicated sexual dramas or perform other high risk acts to become a writer."

No, but those things make it ever so much more fun!

Seriously, good post.

Graham Brown said...

Totally true Becky - I swear that writing is the best JOB I've ever had.

Graham Brown said...

And to add something to what Sophie said - if you are a tattered soul - there is plenty of company in here...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hi Shane!

Thanks! The YA is called iDrakula and it comes out October 1, just after I'm rested up from A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES. :)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

You have a point, Terry. It might be fun, but it's not mandatory...nothing takes the fun out of fun like mandatory anyway.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Graham: here! here!

I mean, thanks. Writing is an awesome job. Wish the pay were better, but if that's all I have to complain about (oh and the occasional review and sometimes those deadline are crazy and why isn' it run like other businesses and...wait, stopping now).

Tattered souls aplenty in the writing community, that's for sure.

Graham Brown said...

Becky - you always make me laugh - there arew a few "minor" things to complain about. But maybe we're not happy if we're not complaining.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I've been giving Sophie's comment a lot of thought, because I was one of the sad weird ones. I think I would have liked it if someone told me that I didn't need to stay in that place of despair just to be a writer. I was there and I would get through it someday.

I think the best advice I ever got when I was a teen was from a 30 year old friend of my mother's who said, "I've never gotten really old, but I think that being a teenager was the worst part of my life. And then it was over and things got better."

Kelli Stanley said...

Wait, Becks--what's this I hear about drinking being an option?? ;)

Seriously, wonderful, heart-felt post. Mina's got both feet on the ground and she'll get there.

xoxo