When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I found an essay I wrote in seventh grade declaring my intentions to grow up and become an author. If I look back, the unstoppable tide of words flowing out of me started even earlier, with my love of books and stories.
I wrote my own “haunted mansion” story when I was seven years old (much to the dismay of my teacher who thought I was entirely too intrigued by monsters and other scary stuff). At eight I wrote an illustrated story about the Fireys creatures in Labyrinth that could remove their heads and appendages and interchange them with each other. That teacher had a stern discussion with me about the inappropriateness of interchangeable appendages in an elementary school environment.
This was also the year I read (about ten times) a non-fiction book about the real-world inspiration for vampires, including Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad the Impaler. (Good thing we had our little talk before I started illustrating stories with bodies on pikes or girls bathing in blood…) There was something about these terrifying and supernatural themes that made me want to know more! And when I ran out of elementary school-appropriate reading material, I began writing my own.
I owe a debt of gratitude to a few kind English teachers later in my academic career that fostered my love of writing (despite the subject matter). Mrs. Buttke in sixth grade let me read whatever I wanted and her classroom had a particleboard igloo to hide and read in. Sitting in the reading igloo was a privilege you had to earn, which tells you this lady had the right priorities. In seventh grade, Mrs. Pawlow read about six hundred poems of my unrequited love and critiqued every single one.
My family moved to a new town the summer before I began high school and I wrote the beginning of a lengthy chick-lit novel to keep myself company. Once school began, Mrs. Tabarez encouraged me to exceed the page requirement for our weekly short story assignment and “take as many pages as needed to tell the story.” I took two years of GATE-Honors English with Mrs. Tabarez and it was magnificent. We wrote and wrote and wrote! Two semesters of weekly short stories followed by a quarter where we took one story and developed it into a novella. We wrote screenplays and poems and she encouraged us to try to publish them. (And yes, I am a published poet… *huffs on fingernails and shines them on shirt. And no, you can’t read them because they’re horrible drivel about unrequited love.)
Then came college. Well, junior college. I chose to withdraw out of English 1A/1B and use my AP English test as credit. It was that or fail out of English. The first essay I turned in was returned in bloody red ribbons and it was then I decided my juvenile love of stories had been a waste of time and I would have to develop other skills to “make it” in life.
Fast-forward to 2010 when hubby and I moved to Washington for his work. I’d been married and away from home for three years already and the thought of having to make new friends again made me want to cry. And I did. A lot. In the midst of this lonely time hubby challenged me to write the first chapter of a novel. (Thinking back, he may have been employing the same tactic I used that summer before high school.) I’m competitive enough that the challenge was taken up with gusto. Hubby left home for six months for work and I wrote a novel. A crappy cozy mystery, but a novel nonetheless.
The crappy cozy was better than anything I’d written in high school, so I thought maybe the college English professor was just a jerk and maybe I really was a good writer. The next step seemed to be reading books about writing. (If you haven’t read Stephen King’s “On Writing” do it now — seriously, I’ll wait while you order it online…)
All my reading led me to the conclusion that after I made the novel the best I could, I would need a community of writers to help me make it even better.
Great. Make new friends. My favorite endeavor…
I subscribed to The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines. I read more books. I didn’t make any friends. (Who needed friends, when information could be absorbed through books, right?)
In 2012 I found an ad for a writing conference near me. I took a chance and signed up. I could learn from people without having to actually meet people. I drove to the conference center while trying not to lose my breakfast to the worst bout of nerves I’d ever had. I was excited to learn, but I was terrified of having to do it amidst a bunch of strangers.
And that’s when I met my best friend.
When did I know I wanted to be a writer? Who knows… probably sometime in utero while keeping my mom up late into the night while she read Steven King and Terry Brooks.
When did I know I was going to pursue the writing thing? This year, when my bestie and I started a for-funzy writing project that turned into something amazing called The Arborist!
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