A meme that’s been around since the cave days – i.e. before Facebook – says if you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to be a horrible warning. Like it or not, we are all role models, but especially as writers and custodians of our society’s stories.
This week I served as the first Writer-in-Residence at Young Library and I found myself talking about the role models who influenced me as a writer. The first, of course, were my parents.
Few of us think of our parents as role models. Mostly we think they were the worst people ever to have children. It takes many years before we can admit they have a few virtues. And whether they were role models or horrible warnings is seldom clear. Usually we come to accept – particularly if we’re parents ourselves – that they did the best they could.
Mine gave me the means to become a writer. First, they introduced me to the library before I was even school age. Borrowing books, reading them, being read to were a natural part of our family life. As I began to create my own stories, again very early, I was never told it was “bad” or “a waste of time” to make things up. My father was dead set against lying, yet he was untroubled as long as it was clear I knew the difference between lies and stories.
This aspect resonated with the audience at Young Library. Many people came up to me between talks and said they would pass this information on to their children or grandchildren. Most who had a creative child in the family, had seen that child told to do something more “useful” or to go outside and play. Good advice in its way, unless you have the writing gene.
My father taught me to think before speaking, a habit still with me decades on. And by extension, that thinking itself was a skill worth mastering. How many of us get impatient with ourselves for daydreaming? Yet daydreaming is a vital precursor to writing, and while working on a story or novel.
I encourage new writers not to go with the first idea jumping into their heads, but to explore more story possibilities, and then still more, until they arrive at something excitingly original. You can’t do that without spending time staring out a window.
If you’ve visited my website, you know that in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, I was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). While overwhelmed by that recognition, I was delighted that the citation referenced my work as a mentor to emerging writers.
Mostly done through the Valerie Parv Award, run by Romance Writers of Australia, mentoring is about the most satisfying work I do. I’ve just finished reading the finalists for 2015, to choose my new “minion” – what previous entrants dubbed themselves long before the movies. I mentor the minion while they hold the award. The VPA has existed in its present format since the year 2000. http://valerieparv.com/award.html
It’s a joy to see each minion blossom throughout their year. One former minion, best-selling author, Kelly Hunter, said she was pleased I hadn’t tried to change her voice. My job, surely, is to help them make the most of their voices and considerable talent.
Writers are also role models through story. What kind of morals and ethics do you share via your characters and plots? I aim to make the good guys noble. This doesn’t mean perfect, but at least striving to be better than they are.
My villains do bad things, but I give them reasons (motivation) for their evil, so they’re understandable, rather than simply evil for my convenience.
As a writer, what kind of role model are you? Do you describe yourself as hard working, or “lucky.” Luck may come in when submitting work to a publisher or agent, in that you may have just what they’re looking for at that time.
Inborn talent also needs luck, to win the genetic lottery. But do scientists or mathematicians call themselves lucky when their talent leads them to some great discovery? Not in my experience.
Likewise, luck seldom comes into play in writing. You may be born with the talent but without commitment, application and hard work, the talent stays hidden, like unmined gold.
What kind of role model are you and the characters in your stories? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.