This isn’t really a letter to my nephew. It’s going to have swear words in it and a section on what some women find sexy – neither are really pertinent to a 9 year old.
What is pertinent is the amount of writing the fourth grade requires.
My honorary nephew – I’m not actually a relative, just a family friend – is struggling. His mom asked “for a bit of ‘Uncle Paul’ assistance” in convincing the kid that writing is cool, even if it’s hard at first.
I’ll do that on my own time. But in this, my not-really-a-letter to my not-really-a-nephew, I get to write down exactly what I would like to say, with all the swear words and advice on women that entails.
Writing, my dear nephew, is the fucking best.
It’s a terrible living. Don’t go into it unless you’re truly obsessed. Hopping from newspaper to newspaper, scraping up any freelance job that will have me and watching my moral standards inversely correlate with the size of the paycheck has put gray on my head and very little green in my wallet.
But writing is not the same as being a writer. Whether or not you decide to become a professional writer (or, god forbid, one of those awful hobbyists who introduce themselves as “but really I’m a writer” at parties), writing will do you well in life.
So why write?
You should write because when you’re a kid, you have just as much emotion in you as an adult does, but you don’t have the language to talk about it.
A feeling unexpressed bulges out, makes you swell up like a shaken bottle of pop until you burst in bad ways. You hit your brother or start crying when you don’t want to and your mom and dad ask you but you can’t say why.
Writing gives you the language to let out the pressure before it gets bad. Writing unscrews the cap a bit at a time, letting little hisses of fizz out so you don’t explode.
You should write because I’ve seen you get frustrated trying to explain things. Writing slows you down, gives you more time to think about what you want to say.
You should write because people’s favorite books change, but their favorite sentences never do.
You should write because trying to describe the world makes you look at it more intently.
You should write because if you’re a writer in your 20s, you can be as moody as you want and some women will find it sexy. Like, really sexy.
Start with the first word, then the second, then the third. Don’t think, just put down every word that pops into your head as fast as your 9-year-old fingers can keep up. You can always take out the dumb stuff later. Just write.
Whatever you write is going to suck. You’re 9, for god’s sake.
But the next thing you write might suck a little less. And the thing after that might suck even less. You might not ever be great, but you are destined to at least be better at it in the future than you are now. That’s just how practice works.
Writing will help you express your emotions, organize your thoughts, become funnier, smarter and a more deliberate, perceptive person. It’s a tool you can use to make the rest of your life better, whether or not you get great at it. You don’t have to be a great writer to write any more than you have to be a great chef to make a tasty meal.
So pick up the pencil, my not-quite nephew. Put whatever’s inside that head of yours on the page.
For the love of god, write.