I was recently invited to speak at a grade school about what it’s like to be a writer. I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say to them. Obviously most of what I write is going to be off limits. My stories are meant to terrify adults. Some of the horror would go right over their little heads, and some of it would put them in therapy. Talking with kids that young is important though. Grade school is when I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Call bullshit if you will, but that’s when it started. I won classroom contests for telling stories in the first grade. In fourth grade I was getting kicked out of the classroom for blowing off the work we were doing to write fiction. By the time I dropped out of high school I had hundreds of hours poured into half started novels and fantasy worlds of my own devising. I paused for a few years because I let other people convince me it was a pipe dream, but I’m back to doing it full time. Most of what I did when I was that young was blatantly rip of other writers. One short story I made involved re-writing the plot of Jaws in two pages after I discovered paragraphs. Another one was about half-eagle, half-elf archers defending the walls of their home, Lothlorien, from invading orcs. When I was a teenager the stories were a little less ripped off, but no less contrived.
Regardless, it started really young, and that’s got me thinking a lot about passions. I’m incredibly lucky to have discovered mine. While I don’t believe that every person only has one, I do believe that they are few. I also think a lot of people fool themselves into thinking that their passion is something other than what it is. If you spend four years going to nursing school because you’re certain that’s what you want to do, then discover that you hate it but keep doing it anyway, that isn’t a passion. Oh, sure, it might be a talent. It might be something you like, but if you don’t love it, if you don’t think about it even when you aren’t doing it, it isn’t a passion.
My friend Rox once said to me, “Talent is interest applied over time.” I enjoy bike riding. Over time I’ve developed the coordination, strength, knowledge, and experience necessary to do it well. You’d say I’m talented at riding a bike, even if I’m not doing backflips off of park benches. The same is true of passions, but it goes beyond that. I have a burning need to write. I’m not wearing a beret while sipping a twenty dollar IPA and talking about how tortured I am, it’s just something I do. If I don’t write I feel like crap. The one thing I’ll accomplish every day, even if I don’t drag myself out of bed, is writing. I can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life. I get bent out of shape when I can’t figure it out, and I crave the validation of my peers in the field. Needy? Maybe, but it’s the truth. I have a passion for this. I care about it. I keep up on industry news, and I make it a point to check in on some of the professional rags. (Although I’m probably not as well informed as I should be. Sue me, I’m passionate but lazy.)
If you feel the same way about something then it might damn well be your passion. Yours doesn’t have to be artistic. I know lots of artists, but I know a lot more people who aren’t. Music and painting are all well and good, but some people just care about their families. If raising children is all you care about then you might be a passionate mother or father. Maybe auto work is your thing? If you can take an engine apart and put it back together blindfolded you’ve probably found your bliss. Hell, I knew a guy who loved working for Mc Donald’s. Not just, “Hey, It’s a job,” I’m talking this dude loved the fast food industry. Laugh all you want, but the head manager of a busy fast food restaurant is making a lot more money than most writers. And hey, some people are happy just finding themselves. Self exploration might be your passion. It doesn’t have to be out in the physical world, sometimes it’s inside. (I think you could argue that all of it is on some level.)
Anyways, bringing it all back around, I hope one of the kids I talk to loves writing. I didn’t meet another writer until I was in my twenties. Maybe one of the kids in this classroom I’m going to speak to is the next Hemingway. Maybe me repeating a little bit of what I just said and telling him/her about the hard work they’ll have to put it will get them to write up a storm that night. Maybe twenty years after that he/she will find that story and make a book that changes the world out of it, or at least changes theirs. Maybe one day he/she will tell the story of the writer who came and talked in grade school, who’s name he/she can’t quite remember.
Or maybe it’ll just be a good way to kill an hour. Either way, what’s your passion?