I am a girl (well, woman). I was once young. (Don’t snicker.) And even then I loved to write. But I didn’t necessarily want to be a writer, well, not at first.
Searching for K.L. Kranes…
Let’s take a trip down memory lane…to the ages of three until about ten. Back then, I, K.L. Kranes, went by a different name. We’ll call the young me, Kiki. (Actual picture of me on the right. Nice dress, right? Gingham + ruffles is always a winner.)
Don’t let the smiling face fool you, Kiki was a stubborn, hot-tempered little girl who spent many hours in her playroom with her toys and her imagination. And she passionately wanted to be many things, depending on mood/day of the week/recent favorite movie. These future career aspirations included the following (with adult Kiki, aka K.L. Kranes, retrospective commentary.)
K.L. commentary: Bad idea. The only time I should sing is when I’m in a car with the radio up very loud.
A professional dancer.
K.L. commentary: Even worse idea, ‘nuf said.
K.L. commentary: At the time, I thought being a scientist consisted of shaking plastic test tubes and saying “I’ve got it!”
K.L. commentary: I once faked being hurt using a bottle of ketchup and a butter knife to get the attention of my parents, however, the sight of real blood made me gag. It should have been a clue this might not have been the career for me.
K.L. commentary: Thank you Space Camp, the movie, for the brief dream of being jettisoned into space with minimal training and a robot and thinking that would be enough to survive.
K.L. commentary: If standing next to a small chalkboard while stuffed animals and dolls with yarn hair stare at you equaled professor, I would have made a great one.
A professional karate fighter.
K.L. commentary: …in my defense, everyone wanted to be the Karate Kid if they were alive in the 1980s. Yes, even girls!
K.L. commentary: OK, not a profession, but Anne Rice and Jason Patric made it look so cool!
Eventually, Kiki (not me above, but isn’t that little girl cute!) realized all these games of pretending were her writer brain creating stories. So she stopped pretending and started filling notebook after notebook.
Still, she never said, “I want to be a writer.” At least, the adult version of her doesn’t remember saying this. She only remembers what had been drilled into her brain by others (intentional or not) her whole life: You cannot make a living as an author. And making a living is far more important than happiness.
And so it took Kiki several decades before she persued a true writing career, before she became K.L. Kranes.
Writers Wanna Write…Right?
Fast forward now to present day. I am no longer Kiki. That little girl is gone, although I hope I’ve retained some of her imagination. Now I’m an adult. I wrote a novel and some crazy publisher decided it was good enough to publish. (Go figure.)
I also write a monthly column for a Virginia-based magazine called Bella where I profile young female writers. (You can check it out here, if you’d like. The young women are very inspiring!) And it’s this column that brought me to today’s blog topic.
I’ve spoken with many young women as part of my research for the column. Every one of the girls has a writing pedigree, before the age of 20, that makes me envious. They’ve written entire books, won writing contests, started writing clubs and underground magazines, blogged. These girls were handpicked and recommended because of their writing prowess. (At their age I think I was too busy crying in my room to Pearl Jam’s “Black” to care about anyone seeing my writing.)
For each interview, I have an initial set of questions as a jumping off point. After multiple interviews, I’ve noticed some common themes. With few exceptions, most of the girls I interview say something along the following lines:
- Harry Potter is the best book ever
- Avatar is the best TV show ever
- Fan fiction is where they started their writing “careers”
- No one wants to be a writer when they grow up
Why not a writer?
Some of the various responses I have received to the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up” include: doctor, lawyer, scientist, musician, politician, teacher, CEO, editor (getting warmer). It is almost never “writer.”
Yes, I have a small sample size. But it’s a sample size of girls who put writing and books at the top of the list of their passions. Yet none wants to be a writer. What gives?
Of course, my follow-up question is always “why don’t you want to be a writer?” I can practically answer for them. In fact, I don’t know why I keep asking. For some reason, I just want to torture myself. The answer is always something akin to “it’s really hard to make it as a writer.”
These girls are just being practical, just like I was at their age. My parents and society told me the same thing: You won’t make a living at writing. And so it became my hobby instead of my career. (Caveat: I do write and edit technically as part of my career. But the novelist portion, the dream portion, came much later in life.)
WHY NOT A WRITER?!?! (She says angrily.)
If these young women have the exact same rationale as I did at their age, then why does my stomach drop whenever I hear them say they don’t want to be writers?
It’s not them, it’s me…
Part of it, of course, is my own selfish bias. I often wonder what life would have been like if someone told me to follow my dreams instead of doing what’s safe. And I don’t want them to wonder as well.
It’s not me, it’s society…
It’s not just about me and my issues though. I’m angry that we’ve created a society that elevates TV and social media over literature. It annoys me that people get paid millions of dollars to put on helmets and pads and ram into each other on a football field, but so many great books and authors struggle to make any money. Essentially, I’m angry on behalf of these girls, that we don’t live in a world where they can follow their dreams without fear of starvation.
It’s not me, it’s them…
Still, that’s not just it either. People can’t make a living as an actor or musician most of the time either, yet tons of high school students, even some I interviewed, will choose musician or actor before a writer. Is writer not glamorous enough to brave a life of small apartments and ramen?
It’s not me, it’s the boy scouts…
And, there’s also the female factor. Boys are encouraged to take risks. Girls are encouraged to “play it safe.” The best example I can give is boy scouts vs girl scouts.
Imagine a girl scout troop goes camping and they want to build a campfire to make s’mores. There are a million rules in girl scouts surrounding this one endeavor. The adult has to supervise every step, no matter the age. Once the fire is lit, girls must literally ask permission to enter the fire ring and be granted permission by the fire pit master (not sure that’s the real terminology, but you get it.) Only two or three girls can get anywhere near the fire at a given time. The rest, all with hair carefully covered, sit quietly on the edge of the fire pit ring, several feet away, waiting for their turn.
While on the other side of the camp…the boy scouts shoot lighter fluid at the campfire and dance around the giant flames while screaming at the top of their lungs and holding spears. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but not as much as you might think. (Note: I think very highly of both the girl and boy scouts and am using them as a reflection of society not a reflection of scouting…although they could reflect a bit more.)
The bottom line is like the rest of life when it comes to writing, girls are told over and over to play it safe instead of taking a risk and doing what they really want to do.
And so here we are…
Obviously, I don’t have all the answers or any of them to this conundrum I’ve lamented. In general, I don’t like to complain (or listen to other people complain) without offering a solution. (It’s the type A need to take action part of me.) But I don’t have one.
Perhaps it’s enough to point out this current fact of life and simply encourage young women to follow their dreams, whether writing or any passion. It sounds cheesy, but if you’re not happy in what you’re doing, I don’t think all the money in the world can make up for that.
As my daughter likes to say, “just sayin’.”