I’ve been reading a book about Dr Seuss.
It seems like a more than worthwhile thing to do, given how Dr Seuss is one of my major inspirations for not just wanting to be a writer, but for also helping to define the kinds of stories I wanted to write.
I didn’t really think about it that much at the time. I had more ‘adult’ influences like Douglas Adams and Monty Python in my mind when I first sat down to write. But funnily enough, the very first thing I did write was a comedy sketch involving the Cat in the Hat going to a job agency (kids just aren’t reading books any more). And when I did get to see that sketch performed, it was in a university revue with a definite Seussian theme – the title was ‘Truth, Pain and Dr Seuss’, the sets were all designed in Dr Seuss style and the highlight of the show was an artistic reading of Fox in Socks. So the good doctor has been with me, pretty much from the start.
I’ve learnt a lot from this book. For a start, I learnt we’ve all been pronouncing his name wrong – it rhymes with choice, rather than moose. I learnt that the rhyming pattern I’ve been using in my recent stories, largely because I copied it from my favourite Dr Seuss books, is known as anapestic tetrameter (now that sounds pretty technical and cool doesn’t it – I reckon I’m going to definitely throw that into as many conversations as I can). I also learnt that he faced numerous knockbacks and rejections before his career started (both initially as a cartoonist, and then later as a children’s writer) so I suppose there’s hope for me yet.
But there was one thing in particular I took from this book. It was interesting to discover that early on, Dr Seuss had no ambition to be a children’s writer – his focus was more on being a cartoonist – and he saw writing for children as a lower kind of art. It was only later that he came to see the value in what he was doing. In his later years, when people would ask him why he wrote for children, he would reply that he didn’t write for children, he wrote for people.
This really resonated for me. I also did not plan to be a ‘children’s writer’ when I first began to write – my focus was more on being a humorous writer. It was just something about my voice that made me gravitate in that direction. But just like the good doctor, I will also say, loudly and clearly to anybody listening, that I write for people.
To paraphrase the words of Horton the elephant – the subject of the first Dr Seuss book I remember enjoying as a child – I write what I mean and I mean what I write – always have and always will.
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