Telling someone they’re not a writer
A question popped up on one of the Facebook groups that I’m on: “When did someone tell you to be a writer?”
No one told me to be a writer.
But it choose me.
I was 8 when I started writing. My best friend was writing a class play. I thought that was a cool idea, so I wanted to write one, too. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. If I got to class early, I pulled out a sheet of notebook paper and added to whatever story I was working on. And sometimes, if the class got boring, I did the same thing. Got caught a few times, too.
It was fun. Some of my friends got in on it and illustrated my stories, so that was really cool. I’ve always liked it when stories came with illustrations, like the Nancy Drews. I’d flip through those first to see the pictures — sort of like a preview, because there was always something exciting.
So I wrote and wrote and wrote. When I was in 7th grade, a class popped up for creative writing. My BF got into it, and I tried signing up for it, too.
Then I was summoned to the counselor’s office. She was a Chinese woman with shoulder-length black hair and bangs, and a stern, unfriendly face. She informed me that I couldn’t take the class because she didn’t “think I was capable of it.”
In hindsight, I probably wasn’t a good student. I’m visual spatial, and teaching of the time ignored that learning style. As part of that I’m not a great speller. I had to memorize a lot, and sometimes by sounding out the word, I learned it wrong. The problem is that once I learned it wrong, it was imprinted wrong (spell checker is a god!). I also read words in a gulp, rather than one letter at a time, and I skip words when I read.
A lot of test questions can change meaning entirely if one word is omitted, so I could get something really wrong. I’m sure the teachers thought I wasn’t trying hard enough or didn’t care.
But here’s the thing I don’t get in all this: To become a writer, you have to practice. Writing is a hard skill to learn to do well, and certainly, writing fiction, even harder. I was writing at every opportunity and was practicing continually — and on my own. Yet, I was deemed “not capable of it.”
I’m sure the counselor thought she was saving me from disappointment, but honestly, it was not her place to do so. Especially since I was writing on my own. I had a relative who said she wanted to be a writer. I was reasonably certain that she probably wouldn’t follow through, since that’s her personality type. But what I did was go out and buy her a book on writing because it wasn’t right to tell her she couldn’t do it.
Sometimes people think they know best and they don’t know anything at all. I came from that counselor and just cried because I felt like such a failure. I so wanted to go to the class. It was more writing! And I wanted to learn!
And a counselor was telling me I couldn’t learn.
Then I got mad. I continued writing, and two years later placed honorable mention in the school essay contest. Not capable — hrumph!
My BF, who got into the class, stopped writing in high school. I’m the one still writing.