This post is #7 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.
A common thread runs through the backstories of superstars, no matter what their fields of accomplishment: growing up, they spent a lot of time soaking in x.
Musicians grow up hearing a lot of music. Artists are raised amidst art. Men and women of science began as boys and girls of science, talking about something besides the weather or America's Most Wanted around the dinner table.
I grew up around writers.
My father and grandfather were writers, and they hung out around other men, and yes, they were all men back then, who were writers. On Saturdays, they gathered at a little coffee shop on the corner of Rush and Bellevue in Chicago's Near North Side to kibbitz and, in my writerly imagination, enjoy hamburger sandwiches and coffee, old-school style. And yes, to smoke, of course. Everyone smoked back then.
My memories of Dad and Gramps don't all have to do with writing, but a surprising number of the most pungent ones do. Most mental images of my dad have him looking down, either at a yellow, letter-sized "legal" pad (his paper since I first understood these things) or at some piece of reading material, the former on the floor, leaned back against the couch in the den that served as his bedroom during Divorced Dad Weekends, the latter in the tub. (As a side note, this may account for my fascination with the film noir Laura, whose writer-character we first meet in the tub, typing on a machine perched atop a board serving as a makeshift desk.)
I rarely saw my grandfather writing; I was an only grandchild until age 5, and he spent whatever time he and Gram were allotted with me fully engaged in some kind of merrymaking, talking, or (bless his heart) shopping. Often for books. But Gramps always had the study of my dreams: Mid-Century Awesome, with a massive and elegant custom wall unit of interlocking shelves, nooks, and whatnot for his books, magazines, files, and, of course, his typewriter return, which sat just to the left of his writer-writing desk at a perpendicular angle.
The ubiquitous accommodation of and proximity to writing made writing seem like the most natural activity in the world. It was not a matter of being easy or hard; it just was. One did it, and a lot of it, just as one did a lot of eating and sleeping and walking.
This might be the greatest gift WriteGirl gives: to let a young writer soak in it. The girls are given their own journals to write in. Then they meet with their mentors once weekly, at a coffee shop, quite often, to write, to do the exercises, but also to talk about writing, and all the work that goes into and around writing to support the writing.
The coffee shops are not O'Connell's but the ritual is the same: we are writers; let us spend time together, telling each other our stories.