Monday, February 24, 2014

ESSENCE Countdown: The Beginning of the Beginning

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Pop quiz for you writers: have you always known this is what you wanted to do? Did you ever turn away from writing--cave into society's pressures and pursue "normal" hobbies instead?

Like I said in my last "Countdown to ESSENCE" post, I decided I was going to become an author when I was five years old. I couldn't even read then, so I stole one of my dad's massive, three-inch binders and crammed it with haphazardly drawn stories. The stories I drew were complicated, yet I insisted on reciting them verbatim to anyone and everyone who would listen.

My "picture stories" graduated into real-life stories when I was in third grade. I can still remember my dad's ancient work computer, with its complicated WordPerfect software and its inability to save files with names that made any kind of logical sense. That computer was magical to me, and the stories I cranked out made me feel more alive than anything I'd ever done before.

I continued writing through middle school, and I exchanged my go-to animal stories for ridiculously cliche, epic fantasies. But then I began to notice something. The other kids around me--with the exception of my childhood best friend Allen Walker--WEREN'T writing ridiculously cliche, epic fantasies. They weren't writing at all, and the fact that I was made me feel... well... weird.

Nerdy. Awkward. Not normal at all.

I began to hide my writing. I wouldn't even let my (incredibly supportive) parents read my work anymore. Instead, I yanked the pages off the printer the second they printed, and I squirreled them away in notebooks and hid them under my bed like I was doing something wrong.

I would downplay how much my stories meant to me, and I stopped writing altogether my freshman year of high school. Instead, I dove into sports and other "socially acceptable" pursuits, and the remnants of my writing only survived in homework assignments and the thick journals I filled with news about my friends and the boys who were finally starting to notice me, too.

(Now, don't get me wrong. I dug the sports. I was on the soccer team, the swim team, the cross-country team and the track team, and the athletic world was--and still is--my jam in some respects. I just find it sad that I managed to bury my very biggest passion because I didn't know how others would feel about it.)

It wasn't until after I'd graduated college that I returned to my roots and decided to actively pursue my childhood dream of becoming an author again. Even then, I kept this pursuit on the down-low, and I didn't even tell most of my closest friends until I'd already secured a literary agent.

Why? People weren't weirded out when they heard I wanted to be an author like I expected. Instead, they were excited--stoked for me, even--and their instant acceptance of something I had so carefully hidden made me realize what an idiot I'd been for ever hiding it in the first place.

What was I afraid of? Being judged? Or was it failure? Did I feel like I needed an agent's stamp of approval before I had the right to claim I was a writer?

Whatever the reason, it was a dumb one. I should have had faith in my identity as a writer from the beginning--literary agent or not--and I should have written some incredible stories during those formative high school and college years. I will never know what I could have come up with back then, and my heart is heavy at the realization that those words are lost forever.

(Hear that, high school and college readers?? Stop reading this, and start writing right now. There will never be a better time to begin!!)

How about you? Did you ever downplay your love of writing--or were you strong enough to resist the peer pressure of "normalcy" during your adolescence? If you hid it, what made you finally decide to own it? And what advice would you give aspiring young writers to help them overcome their writing insecurities?


Deb said...

Oh my yes on the downplay, by not mentioning it or by adding "just" in front of I am a writer. Great post and good food for thought AND good reminder to not downplay...

Bethany Crandell said...

Totally played it down--even as an adult. Somehow I felt like I was just an idiot who was "tinkering" with something and not legitimate. I still feel that way some days....

Marewolf said...

Totally! I very rarely talk about my writing with anyone other than other writers or artists because sometimes I feel like normal people just don't understand...

That sounded really pretentious. I mean it's difficult to explain or talk about writing concepts and ideas with people who have never pursued anything creative because their eyes glaze over after the first 10 seconds :( Most of them just don't get it the same way other writers do!

And I agree with Bethany, half the time, I don't even know what I'm doing :)

Joe Kovacs said...

I fell in love with writing as a pursuit I knew would be lifelong when I was a senior in high school. I took a creative writing course and knew immediately that this would be something I did for the rest of my life.

But I had been writing for a couple years even before then. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had the unfortunate experience of watching a man fall off a cliff and plunge hundreds of feet to his death. (Fortunately, I didn't see him actually strike down below; that might have been too much for my adolescent mind.)

Shortly after that experience, I began keeping a journal of my feelings and thoughts about a variety of subjects, and I never really shared them with anyone. I didn't even speak about what seeing this kind man die meant to me; maybe I didn't know it myself, at the time.

Lisa, I get what you mean about feeling weird about writing and being drawn toward more traditional pursuits. I played varsity soccer and golf, and didn't speak much about writing. But when I went to college, I began to let my guard down and it certainly helped that I became friendly with other writers.

Thanks for sharing your experience with the rest of us. Joe

Becca said...

Aw, yes sometimes I would second-guess if writing was for me. It wasn't so much that I was afraid of fitting in (I learned and accepted a long time ago Middle School popular kids didn't like me) I was afraid I would fail. And if I would fail, all those people I shared my dream to would know(Parents, close friends, teachers...) It would really bring me down and I would be so ashamed of considering something at such a young age. But now, I say "Screw it!" and got accepted to a creative arts high school just for writing because of it!
Thanks for sharing this story, Lisa! Hope you and Lexi are doing well :)

Altha Fidia Oktora said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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