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”?