Friday, June 24, 2011

Letter to the Parent of a Writerly Type.

So a friend from college says he has a colleague who is father to a daughter who has just gotten into an undergraduate Creative Writing Program -- a selective major. My friend asked if the colleague could drop me a line. (Well, in fact, my friend wrote, "Of course, I told him that you are arrogant, wound tight and had very little patience for 'regular people' but that didn't seem to deter him. He still asked that I convey his request." Very funny.)

I said, Sure, of course. Send him on.

So the email from the father shows up the next day. He's asking for advice. I write the following. And he hasn't written back -- so far, at least.

hey, first off, congratulations to your daughter!

i can tell by the tenor of your email that you don't need peptalk #1 -- which is designed to explain the Creative Writing major to parents who were hoping for Pre-Law. a relief.

my main suggestion to the parents of young writers is to know your role.

1. you support them. this means you're relieved of your role as editor or critic. they'll get tons of that.

2. you give them free reign to write what they need to write -- and that includes writing about you and the family. i've been cautious not to write much about my siblings. i have a voice, they aren't writers. but parents -- they should be fair game. what better way do we have of understanding who we are than from understanding who we come from? this might be hard -- but the family is her terrain now if she wants it.

3. apply no pressure to publish. publishing is the career. this is an older person's game. the pressure to publish too early can be crippling and can cause shut-down. aside from the lit mags at her University, she shouldn't think about publishing for many years. 30 is a very young novelist. she needs to think only of craft for as long as possible.

4. this means she'll need time. time is much more important than talent. try to help her afford time. (time is expensive.)

i send young writers to a few month period of my blog -- -- AUGUST- NOV of 2009 -- where i offer a lot of early lessons to young writers (including this post on time versus talent: )

I signed off with a shout to our friend-in-common, and that's it.

A few days go by. I say to Dave, "I wonder what I said wrong to that father ... He hasn't written back. I wonder what he really wanted me to say?"

Dave says, "He wanted you to tell him that you wanted to read his daughter's work and help her get published."


"That's not what you wrote him, I'm guessing."

"Sure wasn't."

In any case, I thought it might be of use to some others out there -- or not. In any case, I've posted it.