spoil the pen, spare the child

“I’m going to write a story!” said Kiddo#2 to me as we sat down to breakfast.

My immediate urge was to exclaim, “No! Don’t do it — spare yourself!”

I didn’t. If she’s got the story bug, telling her not to write would leave her confused but it wouldn’t stop her from writing. She’d just do it in ways other than words to paper. She’d hide it. She’d feel shame in creating.

But I hungered to tell her, don’t do it. Don’t give your heart to people that no one else will ever meet. Don’t look into the depths of someone else’s soul and love them so hard it hurts, and then put them into untenable positions where they have to make impossible choices. Don’t forge an entire person only to take him apart and put him back together again, while you’re rooting for him the whole time.

Don’t listen to that voice when you say you know how to make a person better than he is. The heartbreak you give him is going to become your own, and when he struggles, a part of you is going to be in pain as well.

No one is going to understand. You’ll improve your craft because you’ll yearn for someone to know and love this person just as much as you do, but the best you’ll ever be able to give will be hints, no matter how excellently you do your job. You can’t tell your reader everything you know about that person, because you created him. You’re inside him. You love him. You’ll want us to love him to, and sometimes, other people won’t love him. They won’t understand him.

They won’t understand you, either.

When you’re standing at the bus stop, staring a thousand miles away, and someone asks you what’s wrong, you’ll fumble for a reason because you can’t say, “Jack isn’t sure how to get across the river, but his daughter needs him.” Instead you’ll say, “I’m tired,” and you’ll feel a little cheap.

That triumph when you finally get eight words to line up just right, or you find the one phrase that makes a chapter work — no one will understand. You won’t be able to share the brilliance of that key second when a character births himself in your head, or when the characters begin talking to you, or when you solve the problem that’s stumped you all (author and characters together.)  When the answer to the end emerges organically from the beginning, and you walk around eight feet tall, you won’t have anyone to tell. Because you did your job right, and they’ll think you planned it from the start.

Even other craftsmen won’t always understand. They’ll come close, but writing is solitary.

It’s the best thing in the world. I just didn’t want my daughter to pay that high a price.

Yet there Kiddo#2 sat in front of me, beaming, and explained she wanted to write the story she and her friend had play-acted together on the playground — the same way I did with Amy when I was in third grade.

I said to her, “Do you need a notebook?”

She said, “I’m going to write it on looseleaf paper. A notebook won’t be big enough. I’ll need lots of pages.”

Lots of pages, lots of pens, and lots of heart. Good luck, Sweetie.


  1. Illya

    Like mother, like daughter. You should be proud

  2. universalandparticular

    I liked your story and agree with you totally. Writing is a beautiful solitary exprerience. You are alone with your thoughts when you write, yet you write because you need to connect with others…your write so someone, somewhere with a similar mind to yours will read your lines…
    He/she will read your ‘written message’ and stopped to think about you…they connect with you through your thoughts…

    If you have spare time, please visit my blogs and connect with me:




    1. philangelus

      It’s solitary, and yet we need to be more fluent in humanspeak than if we weren’t writing just so we can make people with believable thoughts and believable actions, reactions, beliefs, aversions, needs and struggles.

      Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out.

  3. Diinzumo

    As I read this, I kept wondering what the downside was. Then again, I think I’m substituting character formulation for real life.

    1. philangelus

      Forming my characters always kind of forms me up too. I blogged here about how writing Josh taught me more about communication (because Josh stutters) and that’s not the only time that happened.

      Do you ever wonder if the art you create is the same artwork we see?

      1. Diinzumo

        Oh, I know it isn’t. I came very close to throwing away one of my most popular drawings ever. Sometimes I wish I could see what other people see (when they like it, anyway).

  4. LBDiamond

    What a wonderful story to encapsulate your idea! It’s true–when writing, I delve into a world that is entirely of my own making and yet I try to it write in such a way so that it can be translatable to a reader. How enriching the whole process has been for me in developing my writing skills.Interestingly, writing has helped me to be more descriptive when I’m talking to people too. I work in a very descriptive field, so it’s a win-win for me! Thanks, philangelus, I hadn’t really thought about it until today.

    1. philangelus

      Thanks, Laura, and welcome to the weblog! 🙂

  5. Ken Rolph

    “while you’re rooting for him the whole time”

    You certainly seem to have an intimate involvement with your characters. wondered if you meant to say barracking for him? But perhaps that is not possible in your situation. Cheering for him might be a safer universal alternative.

    But then I figured that you don’t have any Australian readers apart from me, and I’m not going to say anything.

    1. philangelus

      In American, that would be “cheering him on.” I don’t have enough Australian readers to worry about people thinking I’m doing that particular deed with my characters.

      1. Ken Rolph

        It’s interesting how language works. Even though I know you are an American, and therefore innocent in this situation, I still hear resounding in my brain the other instances in which I ‘ve heard those words used.

  6. Bella

    I, for one, am very happy that you write because I enjoy it immensely, so there.

    1. philangelus

      Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t choose anything different for me. But I wish I could make it easier for her, when the truth is, if you’re going to write the right way, it’s going to hurt sometimes.

  7. Lane in PA

    I don’t read your blog because I am a Catholic. In fact, I don’t know what I am at this time, maybe I am a Pagan or Agnostic, maybe I should try out Zen. I am rather lost right now.

    I read your blog because of the love you give to your family. I read your blog because you are honest in your discussions about the pains of writing and creating, while raising a family. What really hits me in the heart is how you love your family so unconditionally. You are everything a mother should be, and everything my mother wasn’t.

    I praise you for your support of your daughter’s wanting to write a story. It’s hardwired in the brains of some to be story tellers. What you told her is sacred and precious, and I would give anything if my parents had given me the same freedom.

    Thank you for writing this blog entry.


  8. capt_cardor

    I think every child needs to learn to write in order to find out how to open their minds to new ideas, new perspectives and find out that there is an existence outside themselves.

    I remember writing my first story in the 2nd grade. “Walla Walla the Wicked Witch”. I loved to play with sounds and sadly became a full-time punner. In the third grade I wrote about “The Wizard of Cleveland”. To a boy from Brooklyn, Cleveland sounded exotic. LOL. No excuses: my writing as a child taught me so much that stayed with me as an adult.

  9. pprmint777

    Encourage her while she’s young and all the characters are princes and princesses. Maybe when she’s older, she’ll be prepared for the heartache . . .

    Cute post, Jane!

    Linda (pprmint777 on Twitter)

  10. Jason Block

    See, but thats the beauty of it. Paying the price IS the point. Creative people in whatever craft put their heart and soul in it. That’s part of creativity.

    No matter the age whether 8 or 80 people will dislike YOUR creation. Some people don’t appreciate it, and some people like to be mean. That’s life. Can’t protect her from that forever.

    For me, I say go for it. Here’s some more paper.

  11. Sandra King

    I say fan the flame. This is my new mantra.

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