When Writing is NOT a Career

This girl has spent a lifetime chasing rainbows
Hobby? Job? Pastime? What is writing to you? Most writers say when asked that they've been writing FOR-R-EVER. Stories in grade school. Or keeping a diary/journal. In my early childhood, I recorded everything that happened to me in my diaries, perhaps displaying the first hints of a natural-born reporter. Later during my years as an elementary teacher, a fellow teacher once told me she started out as a newspaper reporter. All starry-eyed, wishing I'd done the same, I said, why in the world did you quit and become a teacher? She said, "I like to eat."

Career Hints can Start Early
A woman I once interviewed for an article told me that astute observers can identify a child's interests and talents as early as four years old. At four, asking people questions came naturally to her son. So she went out and bought him a toy microphone. Unleashed was a blossoming reporter, who carried his microphone with him everywhere, asking people, "What do you do?" and, "Do you have a
favorite pet?"

When it came time for college she offered to help pay for it, but she struck out. He wasn't interested. What he did do was put himself through broadcasting school and upon completion, got a job as a disc jockey. Later, he went on to become a popular sportscaster. He told her he loved his career so much that he wanted to be buried with his microphone (a real one this time). She concluded the interview by saying, all this because I recognized his interest early-on, and directed him toward it during his early, most formative years.

No matter what interests young children have, if writing doesn't come naturally as it does for some of us, learning how to write then, becomes an essential tool. During parent-teacher conferences, my advice to parents of eight-to-twelve year olds was to encourage their children to write, draw or take photos for the school newspaper (naturally, encouraging reading was a given). Children who have a keen interest can be directed to publishing stories, articles and artwork in publications like Stone Soup, a magazine that is written by and for kids; and publications listed with The Children's Book Guild, which offers resources on how-to and where-to publish children's work, and includes such publications as Highlights for Children and Cicada, a magazine in the Cricket group. Really keen students can shoot for the top: become editor of their school newspaper, as Stephen King so successfully did.

A note about reading: When my children were in elementary school, I observed a classmate's mother carry around a reading resource, such as The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children, by Eden Ross Lipson; with the books she made available to her children to read checked off, one-by-one. It was an impressive way to supplement what her children were reading in school with her own choices of good literature.

Seeking the "Creative Life"
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, writes that she "happens to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure.  . . The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover these jewels--
that's creative living." She speaks broadly of "creative living," not that a person needs to "pursue a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts." But a "life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear." While the paths of a creative life vary wildly from person to person, it is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a  . . . lot more interesting."

As long as the desire to write is present, the ways to incorporate writing into your life are limitless. One way is to compliment your profession by writing about it.
  • Google "Doctor/writers" and many photos come up of some of the most famous of these, a hint at how many doctors first seek their profession, and then write about it. Dr. David Hellerstein, in his article, "How to Become a Doctor-Writer," said that William Carlos Williams's autobiogrpahy was an inspiration to him as a doctor-writer, though there were  many others. He quotes Williams:
  • "Five minutes, ten minutes, can always be found. I had my typewriter in my office desk. All I needed to do was pull up the leaf to which it was fashioned and I was ready to go. I worked at top speed. If a patient came in at the door while I was in the middle of a sentence, bang would go the machine--I was a physician. When the patient left, up would come the machine. My head developed a technique: something growing inside me demanded reaping. It had to be attended to. Finally, after eleven at night, when the last patient had been put to bed, I could always find the time to bang out ten or twelve pages. In fact, I couldn't rest until I had freed my mind from the obsessions which had been tormenting me all day. Cleansed of that torment, having scribbled, I could rest."
  • The astonishing number of books written by Oliver Sacks, a personal favorite, includes Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, (Knopf, 2007), which helped explain, among other things, how musical pieces play over and over in my mind; and many other books describing  patients' struggles with conditions such as autism and Parkinson's disease.
  • Teacher-writers: Google also displays authors such as Robert Frost, Frank McCourt, Vladimir Nabokov and Julia Cameron, to name a few, seen in a completely different light--as teachers--than the works they are famous for. Teacher-writer dmatriccino, in the blog post, "Thoughts from a Teacher-Writer," writes, "The only reason I’m able to write is because someone taught me how to. I believe in myself because my teachers, in tandem with my parents, made me feel like I could. Teachers didn’t just teach me how to fulfill my dreams; they taught me how to discover those dreams in the first place." 
Watch out: Writing might Sneak up on you and become a Full-Blown Career
The point is that in NOT making writing a career (of course, the exception being successful career authors), we have indeed made writing a career, if nothing more than to live the "creative life." For me, no matter what else is happening in my life, writing remains my loyal companion, is always there, ready to fulfill my deepest longings and desires, and offer me worlds that wouldn't be available if I didn't make the effort. To take "creating something" a step further, I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert, creating anything is one of the keys to happiness. Have you ever had someone tell you, "I'm not creative?" Hogwash. Everyone is and can be creative. All they have to do is try.

Photo: From the childhood album of Linda Wilson

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.


Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, love the teacher's answer: I like to eat. The writing arena can be like that! It's so true that most writes started in one way or another from childhood. Must be something innate. Interesting post!

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks, Karen. Yes, an interest that started in childhood and carried on later in life is something to be grateful for, I think. Maybe having an interest that long adds depth and makes our writing that much richer.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Beware! Even when you're not looking, writing can become a career. It gets a hold on you. I started writing because all the cutest boys were on my high school journalism/newspaper staff. (-:

Linda Wilson said...

Ha, that's the best reason I've heard yet for starting a writing career! And look how far your pursuits took you!

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Another fascinating article with much food for thought, Linda. I suffered from extreme teacher stress at one point, and read a book which suggested listing everything I loved doing as a child. Then doing it. Creativity works :-)

Dallas Woodburn said...

I absolutely loved this article! Thank you for the inspiration for writers, parents and teachers alike! I especially loved the anecdote about the little boy who became a broadcast journalist.

Linda Wilson said...

I'm glad it gave you things to think about. I love the idea of listing everything I loved as a child. I think about these things all the time while writing for children. Hm, I will have to think about that!

Linda Wilson said...

I'm glad you are inspired! What Carolyn wrote about writing getting a hold on you is so true for me. I gave it up to go back to teaching but that flame inside never died. I took it up again as soon as I could. It is a lifelong passion we lucky ones share . . .

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