Have You Always Been a Writer?

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday where today’s topic is about fiction and writers. I’ve read quite a few author interviews, and one of the questions often posed is along these lines: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” “How long have you been writing?” or “Have You Always Been a Writer?” Typically, the author answers with something like:

Everyone told me in high school that I was going to be a great writer. Each day, I would go home and write for hours, letting my fantasy world of H’jarka and the evil ministers of Dra’mn come alive on the page. I had most of my trilogy finished by the time I graduated.

Back in junior high, I wrote a quirky romance novella, printed and stapled it together, and sold it for 10 cents a copy. I sold out my first print run of 50 copies. That’s when I knew I had the writing juice.

I’ve always been writing. I penned my first short story in elementary school with a permanent marker on my cardboard Lunchables container.

As a baby, my first word was “plot” and my first sentence was “Show, don’t tell.” As soon as I could pick up a crayon, I drew stick figures with captions to tell a story in three acts.

Hyperbole, of course. Yet writers do often say something along the lines of always knowing that they wanted to be a writer or having written stories almost as long as they can recall.

Published authors who have written on the craft of writing also give the same message. Stephen King’s On Writing begins with a memoir in which he recounts writing from an early age and his repeated attempts to get words on a page and get others to read said words. Others are fond of saying that writers must write; they simply have no other choice, as writing is like breathing!

From shakespeareshoppe at http://www.zazzle.com

I disagree. I can sit here doing absolutely nothing, and my body will continue to inhale and exhale. In fact, I have to try hard to hold my breath for longer than about 10 seconds. Then that pesky automatic breathing thing kicks right in again.

Writing, however, is a decision, a voluntary action, a mental and physical activity. I have to choose to write.

I chose to start writing fiction in my late 30’s. Before that time, I had only written stories for classes. I certainly hadn’t created worlds of characters, written chapters, or asked others to read my work. I was past 40 when I wrote my first book. I’ve only been doing this — writing novels — for a few years.

This leads me to question the underlying assumption that one is born to be a writer. Is it that simple? Or do we come to this point through different avenues?

The truth is that I’ve had stories swirling through my head for as long as I can remember. I told myself tales in my darkened bedroom as I fell asleep at night, imagining characters and scenes. I read books and thought long and hard about their plots, their people, and the magical minds and fingers behind the stories. I pondered how breathtaking it must be to create a work of fiction that communicates so deeply to an audience the author has never met. But I never wrote stories down. That came later, much later.

I wrote poetry, songs, school essays and research papers, deposition summaries (paralegal job), newsletter articles, web content, and more. Yet a novel was something I expected that I needed special fairy dust to create. Having not received an overt visit from Tinker Bell or “The Muse,” I didn’t know that I could be a writer.

Until one day, when I sat at my computer, looked at a blank screen, and wrote a chapter. Most of it sucked. Some of it didn’t.

Time passed.

I came back a few months later and wrote something else. It probably sucked more than the first one . . . but again, not all of it.

Then Hurricane Ike hit, causing us to retreat from our home and its crumbling roof. Faced with extensive time on my hands and no library card in the city we were visiting (and no eReader then), I wrote a new chapter with a new idea. I really liked it.

It could have ended there. Because I don’t think writing for everyone is a do-or-die kind of thing. If tomorrow, something in the universe shifted and I could not write another word, I would miss it horribly because I love writing fiction. However, I’d be a happy person. I have an amazing family, a great life, and lots of other things I can do (anyone need a lead singer for their rock band?). But I chose to write.

I set aside time every day and added to that first chapter. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, word by word, I wrote until one day I had a completed first draft. No longer was I considering being a writer or “aspiring” to write a novel, I had written one. I was a writer.

To my mind, everyone who writes chooses to do so. There are so many other things you could do. I bet some in your extended family think you should do something else. Whenever you get bit by the writing bug, it isn’t as easy as breathing. You decide each and every day that you write to do so.

Some knew that decision early on, just as some declare that they want to be schoolteachers or veterinarians or lawyers at young ages and go on to do just that. Some do not decide until later.  Some even appear to stumble around for a while and only know that it’s the perfect job when they land in the middle of the fiction meadow, lie back in the grass, and hear themselves say “aah.”

For my graduate degree, I worked a career counseling internship, and I know that some people find their niche early and others later in life. Such epiphanies can occur at age 5, age 25, or age 55.

I am a writer. I didn’t always know it, but I am. (And I think I’m a pretty good one too, or I wouldn’t keep doing it.)

Now tell me: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing? If you are recent to fiction, did you have other indications that writing, or at least storytelling, were “in your blood”?

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19 thoughts on “Have You Always Been a Writer?

  1. I didn’t always want to be a writer. I really wanted to be a spy. But I think the reason being a spy was interesting to me was because spies have to make up different stories about who they are. I’ve made up stories my whole life. Sometimes in my head, sometimes to entertain my friends, and sometimes they were lies to my parents. It wasn’t until my husband and I were living in different cities about 6 years ago that I finally starting writing down some of those stories. One in particular kept making me want to write more and more. It became the first book I published last year and I just published the sequel yesterday. Writing for me is fun. They always say you should enjoy your job and you’ll never work a day in your life. Writing is the first profession that I have ever really felt that way.

    1. I would love to be a spy too, Jillian! I’m looking forward to reading your book, so I’m happy you found the job you really enjoy — writing. I’ve had several jobs I liked, but writing is the job I love. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I’ve been a reader for as long as I could read, which was early because my parents read to me a lot. When I realized that I, too, could make up stories it excited me. I knew I wanted to do that. As early as 4th grade, I was trying to make up stories and write them down. What I learned is that it is not easy.

    I am lazy by nature. When things do not come easily to me, my inclination is to quit and try something else. Because writing fiction did not come easily to me (and because I had no idea how to learn), I quit for a long time.

    My essays and even my personal letters to people were always met with praise. “You’re such a good writer. Why don’t you write for a living?” I shrugged them off, thinking there was no way I could ever write a complete story because I had failed in doing so.

    When I was 34, I was at a loss in life. Without getting too personal, I can say that nothing had worked out for me. I had embarked on a bunch of things and hadn’t found my niche. I was incredibly unhappy.

    I stumbled upon this young woman promoting her first book on well-known author’s Yahoo Loop. I bought her book and was so envious she’d realized her dream. I began following this young woman’s blog and following her journey as an author, and I realized I wanted to give writing another try. So I did.

    This time around, writing classes were widely available online. I took one and wrote my first novel in about 3 months. It was terrible. So I wrote another, and another. And several more after that. The hardest thing I’ve run into is the editing phase. I have the most difficult time motivating myself to do it. But, yeah, I am a writer.

    Good post, Julie.

    1. I’m thrilled you’re chasing down the dream, Catie. You truly are a talented writer. It’s great that you received encouragement along the way. Keep at it! (Editing is a bit different from the writing part, isn’t it?)

  3. Lol, I have one of those writer stories. I wrote a YA romance when I was 15. Looking back, it was 150 typed pages of pure New Kids on the Block fan fiction. >.< So I guess I got the bug pretty early on. I stopped for a while though because I went to college with a double major in English and Psychology and dropped the English major to be "practical." So I went to grad school and all that jazz and became a social worker. Only when I had my son and started staying home did I pick up the writing thing again.

    So no, I don't think writers are "born". I think we all find our way to it on our own path. Maybe if I had never quit my job to stay home, I would gone through life without ever writing fiction again. Or maybe if I was Ms. Popularity in high school, I wouldn't have had the time to try writing a novel. We each have our unique stories, I'm just glad we found our way here! 🙂

    1. I admit, Roni, that yours is one of those stories where I thought, “Really? You were writing in high school?” Very cool! I don’t think I had even heard of fan fiction. (Did it exist when I was 15?) I did grad school too — counseling (we should chat about that sometime), but my favorite part of every job was the writing. Thank goodness you picked up writing again! We indeed have our unique stories, but I’m glad we landed on this path.

      1. Lol, I didn’t know what fan fiction was at the time. I wasn’t *trying* to write fan fiction, but now I realize that’s totally what is was, lol. I still have a copy of it that my mom found in the attic. Scary stuff! 🙂

        And you know, it’s funny how many counseling/social work/psychology people I’ve come across amongst writer friends. The personality profile for the two careers must be similar. 🙂

  4. My dream for one day becoming a writer didn’t start until college. Once out on my own, I started watching true crime stories on television and all of these fictional story ideas began swirling around in my head. I always enjoyed English class and always scored well on my papers, but it took being off on my own to really discover what it was that I wanted to do with my life. And even then it didn’t pan out for years to come….I needed to have a “real” job first. LOL

    And thank Heavens for that “real” job – I met my guy….and he’s allowing me the freedom and finances to pursue my “real” dream of writing. I’m a lucky girl.

    1. Real job vs. real dream. I’ll take the latter too (and fashion it into the former)! I also have a fabulous honey who financially supports me so I can pursue the writing gig. Thanks, Tiffany! So glad you’re on the writing trail now.

  5. LOVE this post. I always feel kind of off when I hear people talking about writing in their blood and the need to write. That’s a very fleeting experience. Don’t get me wrong – I love my books and stories. Like you, I’ve always had stories running around in my head and they often kept me up at night. I wrote little stories when I was younger and then sort of left that behind in college. I went a long time before I started writing again, and I fully agree that I have to CHOOSE to do so. No matter how excited I am about what I’m writing, I have to choose to put the time in, and some days that’s a hard choice.

    Great post!

    1. Stacy, you’re so right. I wonder if love and writing have that in common. You can have this deep feeling of “yes!” with both of them, but if you want it to last, better get to work. Choosing to take it seriously and put in the time means you get to extend the fun and joy of writing.

  6. I wrote my first “story” at age 7 in one of those mini spiral notepads, so yes, I’m the typical, always-wanted-to-write writer! I started many stories in high school and college, then gave it up while I was busy getting a life. I rediscovered writing in my early thirties when I read a book and thought, “I could do better.” Like you, I’ve always told stories to myself to fall asleep – I can’t imagine what other people do!

    1. I finally thought that same thing. (“I could write something better than this book, and it got published!”) I never knew anyone else who told themselves stories to sleep. Good to know!

  7. Does it say things about my obliviousness that I didn’t notice I was a writer until I was 33? I was always writing, but somebody had to say “Hey, you should finish that and publish it!” to get me to see. But I did and I now have a hundred books to write!

  8. I have always “said” I would write a book and when I was a kid I did write a lot of stories. Mostly based on very vivid dreams I used to have. I’d tell them to my dad and he’d say, “You should write a book.” So I would type them up.

    I always enjoyed writing in HS. Like I was the girl who’d get 110/100 on my physics projects because the written portion was so good :). Thanks Mr. S, for believing in me!! 🙂 I loved essay tests, writing memos for my company when I was working, etc. But I never really took writing seriously until last year–around March or April–when I said, “I’m going to stop “saying” I want to write a book and I’m going to write a book.” Here I am :).

    1. I loved essay tests too. People thought I was weird. When I worked as a legal assistant, I also loved doing deposition summaries (which most legal assts hated). It was my opportunity to write.

      Good for you get the book thing going, Erin! Here you are indeed.

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