Books, Media, Parenting, Personal

My Simon Cowell Moment

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I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.

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3 thoughts on “My Simon Cowell Moment

  1. Don’t know why you would think it is wrong to post this, it’s true and it’s damn straight. I read a piece in a national paper this week of a 16 year old, whose mammy was a ‘blogger’ and is now a ‘journalist’/’broadcaster’. It was THE most pedestrian piece of writing I’d ever read from anyone of any age. If I was a teacher it would have gotten a C grade for content, and maybe a B because of spelling. But pedestrian, and ‘entitled’. Ground my gears.

  2. That’s always a dilemma. What do I say to someone who asks me to read their manuscript, when it’s not very good? It is especially difficult with a child. I guess I would say, “Good for you for trying. When you are more mature, it will come more easily.” But you’re right about keeping your early attempts private. As far as the “Simon Cowell” moment – there should be more of them. Too many kids never hear anything critical about anything they do. Everything is “amazing” – and they grow up to be adults with very unrealistic expectations.

  3. I totally agree with pretty much every single point you make here. I was encouraged by a LOT of people to write as a young person, but none of them EVER gave me the kind of advice I need. They would tell me again and again how talented I was, and for a long time I rode on that talent. Graduate school nearly broke me, but I finally had a teacher who wanted me to learn how to really WRITE, not just scribble things on paper and go “TaDa!” I really wish I had gotten the bug to learn to edit before then, but I’ve got it now! I truly hope the girl gets the support she needs to learn how to make it as a writer.

    “‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it.” This is going to be my new mantra from now on. 😀

    Thanks so much for sharing! I’m so glad I’m not alone!

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