What to Tell Your Child When He Says He Wants to Be a Writer When He Grows Up

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

That’s it. That’s the first thing you should tell your child when he says he wants to be a writer when he grows up.

What next? you may ask. Well, that depends on what his reaction is after you just asked him whether he’s out of his fucking mind. It also depends on how old he is.

If he’s six or seven years old, bribe him with a toy car (or better yet, a Nintendo Switch) and tell him never, ever to say anything that blasphemous again as long as he’s living under your roof.

If your child is already in his early teens, however, then you have a bigger problem.

He will think that he’s so slick and will try to act like a smart-ass while you reason with him. This is so because he will think that writers (and, you know, he’s a wannabe writer right now, the little shit) are smarter than the rest of the population, which is a big lie of course. But still, he will think this way. So tread carefully.

Most probably he will answer, “Of course I’m not out of my FUCKING mind.” Then he’ll flash you a smile and an irritating, smug look on his face.

Take a deep breath, and then ask him, as calmly as you can, “So what kind of writer do you want to be when you grow up?” (You’d probably also want tell him not to say “fucking” again, that you didn’t mean to swear—but that’s just me.)

If he says he wants to write fiction, be a novelist perhaps, heave a sigh of relief. Then ask him, “So what language are you planning to write your novel in?”

“English, of course,” the little shit will answer.

“Oh really?” you will ask. “Even the dialogue?”

This will get him thinking, believe me. Because, while he might think he’s such a goddamn expert at writing in English, his first language isn’t English. He was still born and raised in the Philippines, and the first language he heard other people speak—and learned how to speak himself—would be Tagalog or Cebuano or Hiligaynon or Kapampangan, whatever. He learned English in school. And through the Hollywood movies he’s watched. The books and comics he’s read. The music streaming from his iPhone.

The little shit. Verbally fluent in his native language (Tagalog or Cebuano or Hiligaynon or Kapampangan, whatever) but can’t even write a decent sentence in that language.

And how could he possibly think that he could write natural-sounding dialogue in English? In a country where the only English dialogue spoken is on call center floors and inside elementary-school classrooms run by concentration camp English teachers who force pupils to avoid speaking in their native language by threat of fines? Think swear jar, with a taped-up sign that says “English-only policy.”

“Fine,” he will say, “I’ll write a high fantasy novel. I’ll invent everything, the entire world in that novel. The setting won’t be in present-day Philippines. Characters in my novel will live in a world where they speak their own version of English.”

“Good,” you will answer him, and then add, “you’ll still want this high fantasy novel to be rooted in Filipino fantasy, though. Don’t you? You haven’t read any Filipino high fantasy novels. [Because, well, there are none.] You’ve read The Lord of the Rings books, sure, and the Game of Thrones novels. To a lesser extent, Narnia too. But if you only have these books as your inspiration or guide, then you’re doomed to write a novel that’s destined to read like crappy fan fiction that’s only fit for ‘publication’ in online forums.”

Enjoy his pained reaction. Enjoy it. The sudden furrowing of his brow.

“I’ve written poems. I can be a poet instead.”

At this, laugh out loud. Really loud. Belly-laugh loud.

“You mean a Twitter poet like Lang Leav?” Laugh again. Mirthfully.

“Or a ‘real’ poet like those Filipino poets in English that nobody reads?”

At this point you might feel a little sorry for him. You might be tempted to lay off him, but don’t. Bore into him even more; this is for his own good after all. This is a matter of life and death for your child, of him living a good life or of him starving in a hovel somewhere while pecking at the keys of his battered laptop, still thinking that he can be a fucking writer.

“I can be an essayist then,” he will say. “A columnist for a newspaper, even. I can earn money that way.”

Close your eyes, then shake your head slowly, left to right. Left to right. Then exhale audibly.

“Essayist? You mean blogger? Essays are the bastard child of literature, son. Columnist? You mean like Mocha Uson? In this age where newspapers are dying?” It will help even more if you try to sound as sarcastic as you possibly can.

And then add: “And don’t let me hear you say that you want to write plays. Please.” (Make it sound like “puhhhh-leeeeez.”)

Watch him take a seat on the couch, his shoulders slumped, defeated.

Finally! Defeated. Finally.

But then his eyes light up. His face brightens. He has an idea, and you feel a cold chill run up your spine.

“I won’t write for the fame, then!” he exclaims. “I’ll write stuff to live by! I can write SEO articles, website content. I’ll ghostwrite, I’ll write ads. Heck, maybe I can even become a technical writer!”

At this, be afraid. Be very afraid.

At least when he thought he could write literarily—fiction, poetry, essays—and if he didn’t heed your warnings and still decided to push through, you’d give him two months and he’d come back to you, literally starving. That image of him in a hovel somewhere while pecking at the keys of his battered laptop, that’d last for two months.

Now, for God’s sake, he wants to become a paid hack. A paid hack! Mother of God.

He will not starve for two months and go running back to you afterward, heavens no—it’s even worse. He’d technically (pun intended) starve for the rest of his life. Criminally underpaid and unappreciated. He’d have enough for his day-to-day existence, but that’s it. He could brag for the rest of his life that he’s a writer, sure, but then what? Is that really worth bragging about? He won’t be able to buy a house, or a car. If he wanted to get married and have a family, he’d have to marry into a rich family.

What would your relatives say? His cousins are being groomed to become doctors and lawyers and accountants. Pilots. Nurses in the US and in Europe.

YOUR child? He wants to become a writer. Not a novelist or a poet or a playwright—no, because you’ve managed to talk him out of all that lunacy, thank God. Now he wants to become—*gasp!*—a paid hack.

Sit beside him on the couch. Take a deep breath.

There’s still hope, all is not lost. You got this.

Fish your smartphone out of your pocket.

“So you want to be an SEO writer, huh?”

Remember, Google is your best friend. Especially as a parent. Especially as a parent in this make-or-break moment that will determine the future of your precious child.

Google that article that you came across many years ago. Then hand the phone to your son and watch the horror on his face as he reads the article.

HOW DO I CORRECTLY USE GRAMMATICALLY INCORRECT KEYWORDS?

Many keyword terms don’t always contain grammatically correct phrases. This leaves SEO copywriters wrestling to incorporate keyword terms like “divorce lawyer New York” or “truffle chocolates red.” If you’re an SEO writer, one of your SEO keyword nightmares might be this term: “loose weight.” Can you believe that it’s actually a highly searched keyword phrase?

So, how can you use and integrate these “wild card” SEO keywords? Simple: Place strategic punctuation directly inside of your awkward keywords. Search engines don’t put any ranking weight on punctuation! This is great news for SEO copywriters. This means that instead of this awkward-sounding “optimized” sentence: “This year for Valentine’s Day give her TRUFFLE CHOCOLATES RED to help her get in the spirit,”You can write: “With spring just around the corner, the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day is a box of TRUFFLE CHOCOLATES. RED is the color of love, so why not get a box of the most delicious-looking truffle chocolates in romantic red shades for your special lady?”

Here’s how we could use the term “loose weight” in a way that doesn’t read absolutely horrifyingly: “After making the switch to a low-sugar, zero dairy, gluten-free and high-protein diet, I was able to drop 10 pounds inside of one month. My pants no longer fit because they’re too loose. Weight maintenance is the next goal on my health plan.”

Again, we’re able to not butcher grammar by ending a sentence at “loose” and starting a new one with “weight.”

Enjoy that feeling of triumph when he returns your phone to you, glassy-eyed. Horrified. But you’re not done yet. Far from it.

“So you want to be a technical writer?”

*Googling*

CAN TECHNICAL WRITING SUCK LESS?

“So you want to work for an ad agency?”

*Googling*

ADVERTISING COPYWRITER DIES AFTER WORKING 30 HOURS STRAIGHT

“So you want to write website content?”

*Googling*

HOW WEB CONTENT WRITERS DEAL WITH ASSHOLE CLIENTS

“So you want to ghostwrite for other authors?”

*Googling*

BEING A GHOSTWRITER: HOW TO LEARN TO LIVE AN UNFULFILLING AND LONELY LIFE

*****

Watch him as he lowers his his head, rests his hands on his lap, twiddles his thumbs. Watch him as he takes a deep breath and exhales in surrender.

You’ve won.

Give yourself the permission to hug him, and hug him tightly. Hug him like you’ve never hugged him before. Allow yourself to let go, let go of the tears, those tears of joy. Enjoy the moment as your son hugs you back, the little shit.

You just saved his life.

Enough of the drama, you decide, and tell him to go get some ice cream, handing him some money. He smiles and thanks you, and hurries to his room to change.

You also need a beer, badly, so you head toward the kitchen for a bottle of Red Horse. Or, better yet—you change your mind—some tequila. But as your child is heading out of the house, you see his eyes light up again.

You shudder at what he’s about to say next.

“You know what, I can be a musician instead. A guitarist to be exact. I’m dropping by Alan’s place for guitar lessons, he’s been at it for a couple years now!”

“Now listen here, you little shit . . .” you start to say, but he’s already out the door, gone.

Gone.

Gone.