3 Things I Learned as a Child That I Now Use To Make a Living Writing
Pushed by my father, who was clueless about his contribution at the time
Children don’t come with a manual, which makes parenting both exciting and terrifying. My parents did the best they could, yet it turned out that of all those things, a couple of them helped me become an adult that now makes a living writing.
It was only recently that I had taken the time to look back into my childhood and adolescence, spotting the invisible thread that led me here. Now that I’m in my 30s, I can see that I’ve been an amateur writer long before I knew how to write correctly and a writer for hire since my first year in university.
Between these two stages, my father stepped in and somewhat forced my hand to acquire specific skills that I take great advantage of, even today. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the practice, but I had something against the rigors of the imposed schedule, like any child.
Anyway, those were the days, and those were the ways my father thought he should guide me. Only Edith Piaf doesn’t regret a thing, but while I might have a few regrets from my childhood, nothing is related to the following three things.
I have always been encouraged to write
I have this memory as a child when I think I was about 7, and our dad was getting ready to visit our grandparents in the countryside. We were never allowed to go there in winter because it was freezing, and the blizzards were making the small village inaccessible for many days in a row.
Anyway, dad asked us if we wanted to write our grandparents a letter. So, there I was, sharing a small table with my sis, each one making efforts to scribble a few words.
My sister had this big pile of crumpled pages next to her, pages she wrote on and decided to throw away as it wasn’t meeting her high-quality standards.
I, on the other hand, was filled with inspiration. I was writing more feverishly than Jim Carrey typing on his PC in Bruce Almighty. My dad raised an eyebrow as I handed him my “perfect” letter, and I could see his face reflexively contorted in indignation as his eyes slid across the shit. Pardon my French, I meant across the sheet.
In all honesty, I wrote a shitty letter adorned with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes. And when I was prompted to go back and correct it, I replied — What for? They are peasants; I’m pretty sure they won’t notice the mistakes.
I didn’t get away with it. I had to sit back and write another letter, this time one that was less worthy of Grammarly’s additional suggestions.
I was pretty much pushed to learn English
In the ’90s, in a country only recently freed from communism, many people were anxious about the open borders. Still, only a few of them were aware of the importance of mastering a foreign language. My father was from the second category.
While I did have the opportunity to study English as my first foreign language in primary school, dad took care that I got extra assignments in my spare time.
Teach Yourself English, by Dan Dutescu, the first volume, was my night-time reading for a very long year. During the semester, dad used to sit with us and walk us through the lessons, reading us a couple of pages every night.
When we were packed and shipped to the countryside during the summer holiday, we had to do it by ourselves, marking on the book, with a paper, what pages we studied on what days. When he’d come to visit us over the weekend, he’d pick up the book and ask us questions from the chapters we studied.
Then, as he brought us our first computer, he made us play Dangerous Creatures, Microsoft’s educational program. That one was, indeed, a lot more fun than Teach Yourself English.
I was literally forced to learn blind typing
I do touch typing, and I’ve been doing it since primary school. I had no idea that this was the term for it. One day, dad invited us to sit in front of the computer and showed us a little program he has developed himself that would train us to type with all the fingers, without looking at the keyboard at all.
The program was fun once we became better at it. It started us with three letters and only added one new letter after 1000 characters correctly typed. It showed how many characters we typed, how many errors we had, and even had this tachometer display indicating our typing speed.
I am now clueless about what fingers I use for what keys since it had become an automatism a long time ago. But I do remember as if it was yesterday the frustration of having to type with a towel on my hands so I couldn’t see the keyboard.
Today, I blind type at a rate between 85 and 95 words per minute.
Now, you’d think my dad stopped here, but once he made us practice English regularly and learn how to type without looking at the keyboard, he found a new task for my sister and me. He started to work on a dictionary software and put the two of us in charge of manually typing the words from the dictionary’s database.
We didn’t have a daily word count to work with, but we did have to work something every day, no matter how little. The thing is that he came up with a prize. Typing 100 words without any spelling mistake, all in one day, was going to get us a cake. We loved the idea, so we were working daily as much as we could, and, at times, we even hit the 100 mark. Still, it was never without mistake, so we never really got to eat a cake for working on that dictionary.
Fast forward to adulthood, and I’ve been writing since 2011. I’m aware that I will always have something to learn to improve my writing. But the strategies are the same:
1.Not a day goes by without writing as little as 500–1000 words, whether it’s personal work or for my freelance clients;
2.Everything I read in English is an opportunity to study the language from as many different angles as possible;
3.And, of course, every time I sit down to write or learn, I go all in — I go slow with the studying, but as fast as I can with the writing.
Here I am, making a living writing in English, as a non-native. There’s no secret to it other than putting in the effort. My father has the merit of harvesting these seeds in my mind from a young age, making them my second nature. Those tiny seeds grew into a bamboo forest.
He didn’t know where all these would take me, and neither did I. But he had a strong feeling that standing out will give you a nice edge over others in life and pushed me as much as he could to stand out in ways he considered worthwhile.