Writer School?


Here's something from my mailbag. "Dear Michael, do you need todo good in school if you want to be a writer? I stink at schooland all my friends laugh at me when I tell them I want to write,but I'm serious." Followed by a sentence or two of "I need yourwords to encourage me" or some such nonsense.

Fortunately, a writing sample is rarely attached. If it is,either it's excellent or it stinks like rancid yak butter.There's a lot of middle ground in the writing world, of course,but for some reason it never seems to accompany these emails.

The message is usually (but not always) so filled with errorsthat I'm not gonna reprint them here or correct them when I replylest I destroy some sensitive soul like a jackhammer to aneggshell. (It's ridiculous that I should even have such power,being a stranger and all.) Let's move on to the relevant part,the question, which actually contains several. This writer getsbonus points for brevity.

Do you have to be good in school? Given what's passing forEnglish in some places, I'd certainly like to see more effortgiven to school. If you're a student reading this, please try tolearn something while you can.

If you aspire to be an author and you did poorly in school, or ifyou're just plain uneducated, don't let it stop you. What we doas authors isn't taught in school. They teach grammar, and blessthem. I can't teach that subject. If you're very fortunate, as Iwas, you'll stumble across some teachers who teach you how tothink. But thinking is the beginning of writing, not the end, andgrammar can be fixed later if you find some long-suffering editor(like me) willing to do it.

In other words, school can help you with the first step or two ofyour journey to be an author. Considering how many steps comeafter those, don't be discouraged by test results and reportcards.

To distill what you think, feel and believe from all the trashfloating around in your head, and then to actually put that onpaper the way you mean to put it, is a skill that only comes fromyears of practice. They don't teach it in school. At least, noschool I've ever attended. I struggled at this for 20 years or soafter I graduated from college. That's where I learned to write.Not in a classroom.

In my travels through the Matrix, I've met blind authors, deafauthors, dyslexic authors, authors writing in a second or thirdlanguage, authors suffering partial paralysis, authors withvarious psychoses, authors who deal with more than one of theseobstacles. What they overcome makes my complaint, that I'm tooleft-brained to be in this business, seem absolutely pathetic.And yours, about doing poorly in school.

I could cite you a VERY long list of authors who did poorly inschool. If I did my job as an editor, you'll never know who theyare unless I call them out by name. And I won't. Probably becauseI can't remember them all.

(I'm joking. Editor/author confidentiality protects them, even ifit exists only in my imagination.)

Our emailer then mentions that her friends laugh at her when shetells them she intends to write. Why does she care? I've lostcount of how many projects I've undertaken despite criticism. Notjust writing, either. Life. But let me narrow my focus just so Ican end this rant.

You have a reason for writing. You know what it is, even if youcan't put it into words. I can't put it into words. ("It" canmean your reason OR mine in that sentence.) But it's there. Whydo you give a rat's backside how many people tell you not to eventry? People who I doubt have even read your writing, I might add.

Your classmates won't understand why you write. Nor your friends.Nor your family. You're lucky if you find ten non-writers in yourlifetime who have a clue. And you don't care. You just write.

If you're ever lucky enough to "arrive," then all the doubterswill claim to understand why you write. And they'll all be wrong.

Also, by the time someone out there is embracing your work,you'll already be three books beyond it and sick of hearing aboutyour old trash. No, it won't be trash, but you'll think of itthat way. There's a big time lapse between creation and thatOprah interview.

What I never write to those emailers is this. I shouldn't have totell you why you write. You don't need my vindication or anyoneelse's. If those who haven't even read your work can discourageyou, maybe you should give up. Or do an Emily Dickinson and leaveit all for people to find after you die.

But I can tell you this. If you'll let something as silly as yourgrades in school stop you from even beginning to write in thefirst place, nothing you have to write is worth finding after youdie. And if you're angry at me for saying it, good. Prove mewrong. Write a book.

Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org waschosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best WebsitesFor Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw itout and start over again because he's insane. He teachesEnglish at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVEDMY RICE?


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