People often ask me when I “became” a writer, like I woke up one morning and went “Aha! I am a writer now!” or had some life-altering moment that made me go, “I shall now begin to write stories!” I don’t know if that’s how it works for some people, but I never had a eureka moment like that. There was no time where I was becoming. I simply always was.
For as long as I can remember, when I wake up, I tell myself the story of the previous night’s dream. My first thought of the day is writing. Throughout the day, my need to write about the people in my head is an obsessive ache. I don’t feel right unless I do my own work. I’ve had people ask me if something is wrong, call me a grouch, or simply walk away shaking their heads on days when I can’t write. I am, quite literally, a better person when I have time to write. I am a guerrilla writer. If I have sixty seconds, my notebook, computer, or iPad Mini are in hand and I am writing. One of these days, maybe I’ll even get paid for some of it.
I can remember making up stories while my friends and I played dress up. My friends would roll their eyes while I gave myself an elaborate backstory that I then expected them to remember. I remember telling stories and writing stories and drawing stories. I remember my friends accepting my weirdness and people who were not my friends either being amused (if they were adults) or put off (if they were children) by the tales I would tell. I remember the first time I realized it was all a bit odd and then going, “Oh well. I like my stories better than real life anyhow. I don’t need to be normal.” At the age of three I knew I didn’t want to be like everyone else. What a strange thing to know about yourself at three.
I wrote in my own languages. Made up all sorts of codes. Every once in a while, I used them with specific friends. Some lasted for mere weeks, other months, and a few even lasted years. I created dictionaries for them and structures. I’ve lost those now and cannot remember how to read them anymore. They’re lost languages, forever in the dusty recesses of my mind. This means that many of my early notebooks and journals are dead and gone as well. The words held meaning to mini me, but not to adult me. Though the smell of the pages and the tactile sensations of my hands on the covers bring back memories.
I can’t tell you when I first became a writer. I cannot tell you when I wrote my first story, though I’m sure my mother could tell you when I first showed one to her. (I would also bet my life on the fact that it’s somewhere in her closet. My mother is a Keeper of Things, something I’m sure I’ll be grateful for in the future.)
I can tell you when I wrote my first novel. Twelve. It was something that was never quite complete. I knew it wasn’t done. Wasn’t ready. I’m thirty-one now. Finally, I’ve figured out what was wrong. Let me tell you, that book has been a long road. Nose to the grindstone, writing, editing, rewriting, reworking. There have been seventeen beginnings. I’ve told it chronologically, circuitously, intertwining timelines, three different timelines that were staggered, and in reverse. While the events remain the same, the format has changed over and over. I’ve edited the book more than sixty times. I knew the story. I knew the characters. From the get, it was home. I felt better for writing it. I also knew, at twelve, that it was a story that wouldn’t be ready until I was an adult regardless of the fact that my friends told me I should publish it immediately. The characters deserved a writer who knew more. Not about them, mind you, but about telling stories effectively. Once I finish this final rewrite, I’ll rework the rest of the series to fit my final format. I don’t know if I’ll be sad to see the manuscripts leave me, but I do know that it’ll be good to finally share the series. It’s time my characters came to life for others. They’ve been my friends for nearly twenty years. Time for them to become companions to more people than just me. Hopefully, someone else will find the worlds inside my head to be beautiful, wonderful, frightening, and magical. That’s all a writer can really ask for.
So, readers-mine, I cannot tell you when I became a writer. For me, words are as essential as the air I breathe. I am either teaching about books and writing or working on my own. Either way, words make up the home for my restless spirit. My mother asked me tonight if I would be a professional writer if I could. The answer to that was a resounding yes. I didn’t have to think about it. Someone paying me to do what I have always done? Sounds good. One day, I may become a “professional” in the way my mother thinks of things. For now though, I will remain what I have always been–a writer.