Like most kids, I made up stories when I was little. Reading was an obsession for me so early in my childhood that I actually started screaming at a book one day because I couldn’t read it myself. I had bouts of insomnia from the cradle on (to the present day…) and I figured out that parents get cranky if you wake them up every night for three weeks. Luckily, I was old enough to read to myself by that time, so I read – sometimes all through the night – to pass the hours when everyone else was asleep. Stories therefore became incredibly important to me, and that may actually be why, for me, reading is an escape from stress, a whole other world to believe in (if only for a while), and characters are company when they’re well-written.
My mom was publishing short stories and had written (and was writing) novels. I knew books could come from people in homes just like mine, knew vaguely that rejection was part of the process and that if you just kept trying, you’d find the right fit for what you’d written. These were great things to grow up aware of, as my storytelling became more serious. Thanks, Mom!
And I did get serious about my writing. Very early in my life. At first, I just wanted my stuff to be typed instead of written. My mom had a typewriter and let me hunt-and-peck my stories out on that. Sometimes she’d type for me while I dictated stories to her. I was somewhere around five-ish when, once, I was dictating a story (one long run-on sentence connected by “and”s) and Mom suggested, “This is an awful lot of ‘and’s. You could break it up into separate sentences instead.” As with most early writers, my initial response was “No!” Mom typed it the way I wanted it.
Later, though, I looked over it and thought about it. I think, up till then, I’d believed that stories came out perfect first try. That writers just sat down and wrote off the tops of their heads, and however the story came out was just how it was. As if stories were simply born instead of shaped and worked over and created through a process. It had never occurred to me that a story could be improved. I wrote the story out in separate sentences, the way Mom had suggested. I read the first version, then the second version. The second one was better. Something clicked.
Then I became a serious writer. Not a good one, but I tried, bless me. Ha! My mom taught me how to type when I was eight or nine because hunt-and-peck typing was slowing me down. I started my first novel (drivel) when I was nine, finished it at ten. It was about 150 pages of junk, but there was one great character who came out of it. Having gone through much refining as I’ve matured, I still plan on using him as one of the major characters in my NaNoWriMo novel.
Again, many thanks to my mom, who took me along to science fiction & fantasy conventions and writers workshops and critique groups starting when I was about nine. Also many thanks to the Southern Indiana Writers Group, who were my first critiquers (and are still the group I attend, when I make it to meetings (rarely, unfortunately)). I especially thank the long-standing members who were there when I was a kid, because they actually gave me feedback and took my writing seriously.
And I’d like to thank the Academy – wait, no. This isn’t actually a thank-you speech post, I just happen to have a lot to thank people for when it comes to my development as a writer.
Anyway, those were my early years and how I learned to refine my stories and talk to other writers about the process. I have to say, one of the best things about the writing community (by which I mean workshops, critique groups, and so on) is how willing writers are to share with each other, and how excited we get to talk to someone who shares our passion for this process. Even as a kid, most of the adult writers I met didn’t patronize me, but were instead thrilled to talk to me about my perspective on writing and give me advice and encouragement.
Sometime I’ll write a part two to this, about how my teenage writing went and what I learned from it and all that sort of thing. For now, I’ll finish by posting (verbatim) one of the first stories I ever typed (I’m guessing it’s from around age 3 or 4 (?) because it’s typewriter print and my mom got a word processor not long after that):
oensupon a tieym ter wez a LettL PEGWEN AND HE WEZ Verrey Happey Bekaz momme Tokker Aev Hem.
it wiz gtten let and it wez the let sew the lettl pggwn put oen hez pejommez
Clearly, my spelling had a lot to be desired. My oldest sister compared it to Middle English. If you can read that, I congratulate you. It even takes me a while to muddle through it, and I wrote it. 😉