When you’re a parent, it’s inevitable that your children will ask you a lot of questions.
“How far away is the moon?” and “Are we there yet?” and “Why does that lady look funny?” are among a few.
One of the questions every child will inevitably ask their mother or father is “What did you want to be when you were little?”
My youngest son has been prodding me about this recently because his current passion is pondering his own career choices.
For me, the answer is easy, as I had very definite ideas and passions. But I’m wondering what happened.
You see, I wanted to be a writer.
A novelist to be precise.
As you would be aware, dear reader, I am not a writer. Not of fiction or creative writing, anyway.
I kid myself that I do write because I blog frequently. And aren’t tweets carefully crafted sentences? I make a living from writing social media plans and social media content, do I not?
But what a long way I have come from my primary school years when I bashed away at a little red typewriter that my father bought me. I was convinced I was going to be an author, but in the meantime I used to churn out all types of content.
In year 7 I wrote a novel serialisation that our teacher used to read aloud to the class for 20 minutes every day; it was somewhat of a soap opera which revolved around the men and women of Tullarmarine Airport. Students used to plead to him not to stop reading it and I felt the pressure of any LA scriptwriter as they congregated around me asking what would happen next.
I wrote the year 7 school play and the school community was invited to come along one evening to watch. The school was required to contribute a news column to the local paper, so I wrote that too.
One of my particularly gauche products was a novel about children fleeing Nazis to the live in a non-descript European forest during World War II. My year 7 teacher encouraged me to send a bound draft to the esteemed South Australian novelist, the late Colin Thiele. Dear Mr Thiele – also a teacher – sent me some very kind feedback (the only kind you can supply to a young writer who has churned out several thousand words) and gently encouraged me to focus on subjects closer to home that I might have more familiarity with. Ahem.
In high school I began to stray toward non-fiction writing.
I distinctly remember being in a group of ‘advanced English’ students sitting around a library table with our enthused teacher. She told us to envisage a man walking a path through some woods, until he came to a fork in the road. She asked us what the tale imparted to us. I said “It’s a man walking in the woods and he comes to a fork in the road”. She told me I should be a journalist.
I had a taste of earning money through writing when my piece about being a bookworm was published in Dolly magazine for which I received a $100 cheque – the most money I had ever held in my hands. I began to help write a football column for the local paper. And yes, I began pondering journalism. My two high school work experience stints were in the local newspaper (where I’d later work) and in the local TV station (where I had the chance to tail a spunky young blond cameraman for a week).
I ended up gaining a BA in Journalism but didn’t really take to the craft. During my university studies I used to intersperse my reading of media textbooks with readings of Ibsen and Miller plays and dense Dostoyevsky novels. Shorty after graduating, I had a sorrowful short story published in the literary journal Meanjin. It was crafted with feedback from novelist Gerald Murnane, which I was hugely excited about. Today I cringe about the story because it’s an obvious amalgam of myself and my best friend who committed suicide when we were 16. But that’s the kind of things writers do, hey?
Now I’m looking back on what’s essentially a 20 year career in corporate communications. Writing has been a central part of every role and while it has been creative in one way or another (I did work in politics and public relations, after all) I do wonder when I lost the urge to tap out fiction. Was it when the teacher pointed out that I couldn’t see the metaphor of the man at the fork in the road?
Recently I attended a writing function and bumped into an acquaintance who I had known through the SA Writers’ Centre (I’ve recently re-joined the centre as a board member after a decade’s absence).
She asked me: “Are you still writing?” and I was stunned. It didn’t occur to me that anyone saw me as a writer anymore, in fact it didn’t occur to me that anyone had ever thought of me as someone who writes. Today I’m known for being a prolific tweeter and this blog itself has had a single-minded focus on sharing social media tips; after all that’s become my career. But having joined the Writers’ Centre again and having the chance to redress the old question of “what did you want to be when you were little?” I am feeling a tingle of motivation in my typing fingers again.
What did you want to be when you were young?