I can’t teach you the belief, resilience and vision you need to be a writer.
I can’t teach you that writing should be your one and only ‘thing’ — something you’re compelled to do all your life. I can’t teach you to take yourself away from your family and friends to enjoy the greatest high the world can offer: getting the words right.
And even with your hundreds of characters waiting patiently to see the light of day, I can’t teach you to feel like a seven-year-old flying your first kite, giddy on lemonade, as you create hundreds more at your keyboard. I can’t teach you to trust that each story you’re writing is better than your last. I can’t teach you to develop a fanatical obsession to keep doing this for ever.
I can’t teach you to believe you’ll be one of the great writers. I can’t teach you to believe in this so much that you start to see it. Millions of readers will be moved by your words, and non-readers will be aware of the many theatrical and film adaptations of your stories. Academics will say things like “the audacity of didactic prose!” in university lecture theatres, their arms outstretched, with regards to your impact on world literature. Even your worst stuff — the crappy teenage poetry and that student play you had to convince your housemate wasn’t pathetic, but prophetic — will be released as ‘The Early Writings of…’ to widespread critical acclaim.
If this doesn’t happen in your lifetime, it will when you’re dead, but I can’t teach you to believe that — unwaveringly, amid the many rejections you’ll get from the smallest of literary journals.
I can’t teach you to write about what you know, because your life’s already novel-worthy. I can’t teach you to be brave enough to draw on the darkest moments of your life and write something from the heart that will reach out and take the hand of a reader you don’t even know, and make their life worth living.
I can’t teach you to spy on your thoughts. I can’t teach you not to look for inspiration, but to let it find you. I can’t teach you to see the stories begging for your attention every day: the raindrops racing each other down the window; the person waiting for a bus at the wrong stop; the ‘for sale’ sign outside a house. I can’t teach you to look at the butter dripping through your crumpets and begin to see it as symbolic of anything.
I can’t teach you how to keep your mind fertile for ideas. I can’t teach you to see how airplanes, light bulbs, skyscrapers, and everything remarkable we’ve ever built, are just shadows of ideas that have come to people. Ideas floating around our collective unconscious; a place of pure feeling, where the dots connect, which you only catch a glimpse of now and then; a place less tangible but more real than our filtered, physical world. I can’t teach you to be comfortable spending time there. I can’t teach you how to take other people there with words. I can’t teach you that writing is about seeing, thinking and feeling.
I’m sorry, I can’t teach you to be a writer.