When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Was it as soon as you learned how to read and write? Or perhaps it was during elementary school when you put together your first story or book review for class?
Perhaps you were a book worm and adored every texture and nuance of storytelling. You devoured pages of fantasy and story line. You believed you could do this too. You wanted to tell stories about people real or make believe. You wanted to dazzle strangers with beautiful books the same way beautiful books dazzled you.
For me, the love of writing took time. When I was a teenager I adored drawing cartoon characters of my teachers and wrote funny, dorky dialogue in squiggled bubbles above their inked heads. I’d pass them along to a friend who would add to the cartoon or the dialogue – and before you knew it, we created little vignettes of school satire that produced suppressed giggles.
Being a writer wasn’t on my mind. I think Jimmy Oxley the cute senior who was the captain of the football team fascinated me more. Then Robbie, then David, the Glenn, then Marc….
Perhaps I was a bit boy crazy, and not the brightest bulb on the marquis as a kid, but I wrote well. However, my understanding of grammar and defining adverbs and adjectives, split participles and run on sentences was lacking. Grammar and its strict rules bored me. Everything did.
As a child, I used to daydream while gazing out the window.
I’d take California comprehension exams – you know, the one you had to take with a number two pencil, multiple choice, fill in the dots and you’re done?
I used to glean over the questions and fill in any dot. Or I’d create a pattern with the dots. Perhaps a square or a circle. Sometimes I’d legitimately answer the questions and fill in the dots and then connect them with drawn lines. But most of the time, I’d just fill in random dots just so I could go home.
I had to take summer school between first and second grade because my first grade teacher terrified me and I didn’t understand what she was trying to scream into me. And also – because I filled in random dots on my comprehension exams.
Thanks to my love of dots and going home early on exam day, throughout elementary school I’d be taken out of class to see the school psychologist to talk about my life.
I’d have to take tests to see if I knew how to put round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes. I’d have to circle photos of things that were the same, determining the difference between two images.
Sometimes they’d take me into the nurses office to conduct hearing tests, to see if my lack of understanding was due to bad hearing.
This was the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t know about ADD. They only knew that I wasn’t learning the same way the other kids were.
I was able to bring my test scores up, and found myself to be an average student, kept from the more rigorous classes like AP Chemistry or Mr Clancy’s tough English class where students were required to read big, ominous thick books – Dickens, Steinbeck, James Joyce…within days of each other.
Despite all that, I somehow got into AP/College English when I was a senior in high school. I applied for the program because I knew I was so much better than my school thought I was.
Yes, I got in and thrived. But when I entered college, I had to take Basic English because I couldn’t define the fundamentals of sentence structure and grammar. I could use them appropriately, but I couldn’t technically define them on a test.
I used grammar the best I could. I’d create a well drawn thesis, funny, well crafted and perfectly backed up with thought provoking samples. I had teachers applaud my good work. One even took me aside and thought I was a professional writer.
But I couldn’t tell you what a split infinitive is.
It took me a long time to learn that just because you don’t get the answers right, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
I mean…look at this creative answer.
The student may never know what an ovary or adrenal gland is, but he/she created the “Kung Fu gland”, which feels right in so many ways.
It took a written communication class in my freshman year at college for everything to click. Professor Elsa Nunez busted my butt into teaching me good writing – both creative and analytically. After stumbling with errors and falling on my wordy little butt, it suddenly all clicked.
Writing was my thing. And as I endeavored into the drudgery of the nine to five world, I pushed it aside like a hobby.
Yes, I have my bad writing days. No, not everything written and posted is amazing. But the drive to create something, to bring it out in the world – to “finishing the hat”, was the true nugget of desire that stirred in that class and many classes thereafter.
Some writers always knew they wanted to write. Others discovered it through a teacher, a good paper or winning essay. But with so many brains and perspectives, there is no one definite way to be a writer.
And if you stumble over imperfections and poor grammar, pick up Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style”. Don’t stifle your imagination due to the rules of English. Hire a great editor and learn from her.
Remember why you wanted to write, even when you are stuck. Even when you feel your writing seems to suck.
No one can write your story but you.