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17 October 2008 @ 09:24 am

kateelliott/Kate Elliott has opened her blog up to questions from the audience. One of the questions asked was did anyone ever discourage you to start/continue writing?, which she turned back around to the readers after she answered it herself. My response got, um, too long for comments, so I’m just bringing it up over here.

The short answer: no, no one ever discouraged me. The long answer I’ll put behind the cut. :)

When I was six I wrote poems for a school anthology. The teacher putting the anthology together came along one day while I was sitting outside my classroom doing some kind of classwork with another kid. The teacher stopped and said to me, “You’re Catie Murphy, aren’t you?” I allowed, nervously, as how I was (I was six and sitting on the floor and he looked Extremely Tall and had a big bushy black beard! I had no idea if I was in trouble or what!).

He said, “Keep writing,” and went on down the hall.

My parents, to the best of my recollection, took my ambitions to be a writer in the same stride they took all my other ambitions: I was going to be (among other things) the first woman senator from Alaska, a marine biologist, an astronaut, a jockey, and, of course, I would also write books. I have absolutely no memory at all of my parents responding to any one of these as anything other than a perfectly plausible possibility. My grandfather, who lived with us, was a poet; writing was a natural part of a daily life. (Thinking about this reminded me of a story I read years ago on lwe/Lawrence Watt-Evans‘ website and which I can’t find now. “I want to be an astronaut!” he’d say. “Okay!” his parents would say. “I want to be an engineer!” he’d say. “Okay!” they’d say. “I want to be a nuclear physicist!” he’d say. “Okay!” they’d say. “I want to be a writer!” he said one day. “Oh dear,” they said. “Are you sure? That’s really hard.” (This firmed his resolve to become one.))

I wrote plays and songs and stories in the journal I was supposed to keep in 6th grade (I even remember, quite horrifyingly, the *tune* for one of the songs, which was about unicorns…) and got positive feedback (except for the teacher thought writing song lyrics was cheating because they didn’t take up a full line). I got my first useful critique (on characterization and motivation) in a sf/f class I took my sophomore year of high school (and resented it hideously, which is unfortunate, because good characterization and motivation has been the most difficult thing for me to learn, and I’d have been better off if I’d listened to that teacher with less attitude!). My senior year of high school I had a teacher pull me aside to express her admiration over a story I’d written for a history class.

My freshman year of college I wrote a short story (ganked *hugely* from ElfQuest ideas) for an anthropology class, and got it back with a wistful note from the teacher saying *this* was how anth should be taught: in a way that made people who lived thousands of years ago alive and real to the student. In my creative writing classes I was critiqued, of course, but even when I thought I’d done things poorly, I tended to get positive feedback, even from the professors (we were supposed to write a story with a transition scene for one class, and I thought I’d written something just god-awful and clumsy, and was stunned when the professor singled it out as an excellent example. I’m still kind of WTF over that, in fact.). By my last year of college I had professors telling me flat-out I was publishable.

I thought…very little of most of this, at the time, in part because I’ve never doubted my own ability. I mean, I was pleased, once I was *old* enough to be pleased (at 6 I just kind of thought “well duh”), but it’s really only as an adult that I’ve come to realize how extraordinarily fortunate I was in my interactions with adults about my writing. I have *never* been discouraged from writing, not by anybody.

In fact, the person who came closest was Anne McCaffrey. I met her when I was…I must’ve just turned 20, because my birthday was spent on the ferry between England and Ireland. She said writing was a terrible, heartbreaking way to make a living or have a career, and said, “If you can do anything else, do it.”

At twenty, I thought that was bizarre beyond belief. Of *course* I could do other things. What kind of silly thing to say was *that*? I had plenty of other jobs, although I wrote first fairly regularly and then with pretty focused intensity while I held them. Still, of *course* I could do other things.

It was literally not until I got my first book published that I finally really understood what she was saying to me: that if any other career could hold me, that if my desire to write could be overwritten (as it were) by a different job, then I would almost certainly be happier and more financially stable doing that other job than I would be trying to pursue a career as a writer.

I sent her a letter and a copy of URBAN SHAMAN when it was published, and I related the conversation we’d had, and said that I finally understood what she’d been saying, but that in the end, it turned out I *couldn’t* do anything other than write.

(I’ve never especially liked that phrase, “I have to write”, or “I can’t not write.” It sounds compulsive to me, and although I sort of suspect my behavior shows otherwise, I’ve never felt a *compulsion* to write. That sounds so melodramatic. On the other hand, I also guess I can’t think of another phrase that adequately describes my behavior.)

Anyway, there you go. I have been *exceedingly* fortunate as regards to encouragement for my writing.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
princessalethea: Sweet & Sassyprincessalethea on October 17th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
You are a lucky girl, Alaska.
And god, I loved Elfquest in those days...
Laura Anne Gilman: madness tollsuricattus on October 17th, 2008 06:38 am (UTC)
*laugh* Yeah, your experience sounds a lot like mine, except I got the "heartbreaking way to spend your life" speech from immediate family members. Like acting, if you can find some other way to make a living, do it, not because writing or acting isn't 'real' work, but because it will demand more of you than most people are willing to (or capable of) give.

I wonder, if we took a poll, if people with writers in the family had an easier time (no disbelief) or a harder time (actual knowledge of the workload/industry/odds-against)...
R. Scott Shanks, Jr.mnarra on October 17th, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)
My family is rife with writers, but all had been admonished to "find a career, get your family begun and settled, and write all you like in your free time." And all of them, me included, did -- except for the "write all you like" part, because you CAN'T.

Duty-stricken bunch. It took me 39 years to begin to change into what I want to be. Still working at it, but I've sold now (twice!), and write so -- hey, progress!
hegemony hedgehogagrimony on October 17th, 2008 11:03 am (UTC)
I remember writing a short story for English class one year and while the grade on it was decent, the only comments on the whole thing was:

Why is she a chieftess? Why not a chief? Seems sexist.