It’s ironic that, fifteen years ago, the last thing I wanted to be was a writer.
During my elementary years as a homeschooled student, composition class was my least favorite subject. I suppose regular schools lump reading and writing under the heading “English,” but for me they were two separate things. Reading was fun and fast. Writing was a torture that dragged on for what felt like hours. I remember my father tell me that I would probably grow up and become a great writer. I looked up from grinding out another line of loopy, childishly careful cursive and declared that I would never, ever EVER become a writer. Not in a million years!
Look who had the last laugh on that one. As it turns out, Dad knew where my talents lay better than I did. It’s interesting how it took me so long to come around to writing, considering how much I loved to read. Plus, I always enjoyed crafting stories of my own, which I would reenact with my long-suffering toy horses, Barbie dolls, dinosaurs, and Hot Wheels cars. (I believe we still have one of my stories involving My Little Ponies floating around on videotape somewhere…) In any case, while I loved “playing” stories, it took me years before it occurred to me to write them down, or that my world- and character-creation was essentially the same thing real writers did. I had other careers in mind.
At first, I wanted to be a dragon. Once I realized I would never grow leathery wings or breathe fire, I decided to become a cowgirl. After reading enough stories about the amount of work and grit required to be a rancher out West, I turned my sights towards becoming an astronaut. That idea never left the launch pad. While I have never lost my fascination with space, it required too much physical training, as well as mastery of science and math, areas I was woefully lacking in. Then I decided to become a Country singer. It wouldn’t be nearly as physically taxing as being an astronaut or a cowgirl and I would make gobs of money. Unfortunately, my deep-set shyness around crowds, my less-than-average looks, and lack of a decent singing voice shut me down before I could begin my debut.
By this time, I was 12 years old with no idea what I wanted to do in life. Or rather, I had no idea what I was capable of doing. So many jobs that looked appealing at first required social skills, physical excellence, or both, and I had neither. But thanks to the stories I’d been reading, there were so many thing that I wanted to do and see. So, question: how do you visit exotic locales, meet interesting people, or have grand adventures when you are a bushy-haired wallflower?
Answer: become a writer and go there in your head!
For me, this was the perfect solution. I wasn’t very smart, or pretty, or athletic, or social (and I still am not any of these things), but I loved to read, I loved to learn, and most of all, I loved to create. The last thing, I think, was the most important element in my decision to become a writer. I wanted to give life to the thoughts and images that swirled in my head, to craft something that, like a child, needed me through its infancy, but eventually would stand on its own without my help. I wanted to record what was in my mind so it wouldn’t be forgotten, and make something to outlast me so that I wouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a symbiotic cycle of birth and remembrance. Neither of us can exist without the other.
I’ve heard it said that without writers, stories could never exist because there would be no one to tell them. But the reverse is true as well; writers cannot exist without stories. While a story must be brought to life, nurtured, shaped, and refined by a good writer (or mishandled, butchered, and defiled by a bad one), without the beauty and despair and passion inherent in a story, a writer is nothing.
Writing isn’t only something that I’m good at, my one real talent, but more importantly, it’s something I can be passionate about. (And, wonder of wonders, when I sat down to write about topics that interest me, rather than an assignment, writing became fun!) I have a fairly pacific personality, but when writing gets involved, I come to life. Nothing else can drag me into the deepest depths of depression or raise me to the highest pinnacle of euphoria like writing. Nothing else can push me, pull me, drag me, hold me, help me, guide me, inspire me, tease me, taunt me, cure me, or kill me like writing can. At different times it can be your best friend, your most inspirational muse, and yet also be your worst enemy and greatest fear. But in the end, the joy of creating something new out of nothing trumps all the struggles that accompany writing. It isn’t glamorous and it isn’t base, but it is mine.
So now tell me…why do you write? How did you become a writer? And if not, why not?