The Courage of a Young Writer February, 2000

  My kid sent off his first short story to a magazine today.

I’m so proud of him for being so brave, for being open about it. Of course I am pleased that after all these years of vowing he’d never ever be a writer (too hard, too uncertain, too hard on the ego) that he fell to the temptation of writing the stories I’ve always known were there. I mean, I recognized the signs when he was about five and rewrote the endings of Inspector Gadget cartoons. I have often teased him about this penchant of his to make people and places up and he’d always vow–no way, no how, not this kid. No sirree. He dreamed of a nice, safe, clean cubicle in a major corporation where the generous salary came in on a regular, reliable basis, where benefits like health insurance and pension plans were a matter of course.

And yet, now and then, he’d let his guard drop and he’d wander into my office with that dreamy expression on his face, his eyes glazed and far away, and say, “You know what would be a good story? If….” I’d smile and shake my head and tell him he was doomed.

For a long time, he hid his scribblings from me. I knew he was writing a novel with a friend, that he contributed columns to websites that I pretended to know nothing about. His first job–he was desperate, you see to avoid taking a job at the local movie theater, but I had insisted it was time for him to bring in his own spending money–was a regular column for a computer website, for which he was paid a rather handsome sum of money.

Even then, he insisted his major would be computer engineering. Or maybe math. But the inevitable occurred. Two authors fell into his life and so inflamed him, so illuminated his own ideas of what a Good Book Should Be that he fell, headlong and unable to hide it any longer, into the seduction of writing, falling to the heart-stopping thrill, the giddy high of the attempt. I knew he was serious when he began asking questions about the submission process. What an SASE was. How to format a manuscript. He even asked if I’d read it, which I did, careful to comment only on the most cursory of things.

So, I knew it was coming, this day. And yet, when I saw that manila envelope in the mailbox this afternoon, ready to go out, my heart gave a little yelp. Pride–oh, yes, there was pride. The writing is very good in many ways. Excellent feeling for dialogue, with idea management. Surprisingly mature insights. He actually made me cry in one part.

It is also frankly imitative of his god of the moment, Asimov. Which was, actually, one of the scariest parts. It was a sincere and passionate tribute, woven with his own voice and ideas–a voice that’s surprisingly strong. That is where most of us begin, falling in love and trying on that hat to discover if it fits. To fall in love with the way another writer presents ideas and then put that tribute into the world is exactly what a budding writer does. It’s the way original voices develop.

As I stood on my porch and looked at that manila envelope, pristine and full of hope, memory transported me to the days when I was collecting my rejections by the truckload, when I was trying on hats, when it seemed so impossible–but so very powerful–that I could crack that code and see something of my own published. For one long, hot second, I wanted him not to want it. I wanted him to want something easier, softer, not so full of ups and downs. I stood on my porch with tears in my eyes and wondered what is ahead for him. It’s so brave, sending out your heart that way. Over and over and over.

But then a poignant sort of pride stole over me. We are all so very brave. Each and every one of us, aspiring or published for decades. It takes a lot of guts to put your words on the page and then put those pages in an envelope and send them out into the world, knowing that chances are 999,999,999 to 1 that you’ll publish it.

It’s really brave and we are so amazing because we do it all the time. We dream for others. We dare to embrace something so terrifying for most people that they can’t even conceive of it. We are awesome.

I went inside and smiled at him, carefully not speaking of that envelope that was picked up by the postman a few minutes later. I did tell him tonight that my file of rejections–“74 of them”–were painful, every time, but it gives me great sorrow that I lost them because they were so important on this path. And being Ian, he only grinned. A rejection will not hurt him. It will only make him more determined.

Which is really what it takes. Faith and bravery.

Till next time…


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