#3: How Not to Become a Writer

#3: How Not to Become a Writer

Recognize rather early in life that numbers are your enemies and words are your friends. Read a lot lot lot lot lot. When your mother yells at you to get out of the damn car already and look at the Grand Canyon, sigh, bookmark your page, look out the window and utter the immortal words, “It’s a big hole in the ground,” then bury your head back into The Borrowers Afield. Know that for the rest of your life, The Grand Canyon Incident will be recounted as a defining moment in your development both as bookworm and smartass.

In fifth grade, receive a diary with a bright floral cover and a little gold lock as birthday gift. Faithfully record your thoughts and hopes and everyday happenings. As an only child with a terrifically boring life, there is no reason at all to employ the lock feature, but the little gold key has become your most treasured possession.

In sixth grade, write dramatic stories in which you are having a passionate love affair with class cutiepie, Tim Mattinson, characterized by passing notes and occasional hand holding in the lunch line. Doodle Mrs. Tim Mattinson on every page of your spiral bound notebook using your loopiest cursive. Because it is the seventies, experiment with hyphenating your last names, but worry that might be confusing for your children.

At school one day, misplace your spiral bound notebook. Have it fall into the Wrong Hands. Your friends read your stories and stage a mortifying intervention about your fantasy life. You will be utterly unable to explain why you feel the need to make up stories in your head. Years later, realize you were into fanfiction/blogging long before Al Gore invented the internet.

In seventh grade, overhear this conversation between your mother and your school librarian: “I know Stephen King is a little advanced for her, but really, she’s read everything else we have.” Finally, an adult understands your advanced comprehension!

Lose many, many, many nights of sleep to Salem’s Lot and Carrie.

In high school, figure out that while many Cool Kids work on the yearbook, there are some Smart Kids on the newspaper staff. While your grades are not stellar, they are better than your ability to be Cool, but maybe with the right clothes…

Go to an introductory meeting for the newspaper staff. The Photographer is Hot with a capital H.

Join the newspaper staff.

Find out you are not too bad at this writing thing.

Overhear Hot Photographer talking about this terrific book he just read. Because you are not very stealthy, he sees you scribbling the title on the border of the feature you are working on. When he says, with all the condescension of a Photographer who knows how Hot he is, “I don’t think you will care for it, Renee,” decide to prove him wrong.

Buy the book at a used bookstore, because really, maybe Hot Photographer knows what he is talking about after all. Stay up late late late devouring the distinctly southern rhythms of Pat Conroy. Years later, take the paperback, coverless and with sections held together by a rubber band, to a book signing. Pat Conroy thanking you for loving his book will be one of your proudest moments, ever.

Suddenly, people start to put your formerly forgettable face and name together with your byline. Receive both compliments and harassment in unequal measure. It is high school, after all.

Stick around long enough to become an editor. Over time, occupy every editor position there is except for Sports, because that one doesn’t really count.

Attend a student conference at the big city paper your parents have always read. Decide that someday, you will become their next Lewis Grizzard, just without all the drinking and divorces.

Go to the same college as Lewis Grizzard, but get terrifically mediocre grades in everything but Journalism and English Lit. Because there is a run on the Journalism School by everyone who wants to be on air at CNN, an English Major is born!

Attempt to write for the unofficial school newspaper. You do ok, but realize you are still not Cool, and you don’t like beer enough to be a reporter.

Graduate with a degree in English Literature. Use your new skills to persuade a hapless employer that your degree has uniquely qualified you to do the work they need done. This is patently untrue, but your vocabulary is convincing.

Discover that you are still pretty good at the writing thing, and using convincing vocabulary is a job skill that most organizations will come to appreciate. Stick at your entry level job for a surprisingly long time. Get a few promotions. Become known as A Writer by your co-workers. Have your boss refer to you as a Wordsmith, but when people ask what you do, say, “Manager.”

Because it’s simply not possible that after twenty years of being paid to do something you love this much, you have become what you always wanted to be.

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