When Did You Know You Were a Writer?

At a recent book signing, I was asked, “When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?” I was stumped, as I am whenever I’m asked that question. Other authors seem to know, almost to the exact moment, saying “Oh, I was riding my tricycle, and the plot for my first piece of literary fiction fell from the sky into the basket on my handlebars.” I never seemed able to pinpoint my moment of divine revelation.

Until a memory surfaced from out of the blue.

I was only four years old when my muse, Boris, first inspired me. I suppose you could have called me pre-graphic, pre-literate or whatever term you like, but I believe this was the emergence of my writer-self.

Mom was taking a nap, and I was supposed to be doing the same. But I was sad because I had no friends to play with. So, I grabbed my box of Crayolas, slipped from my bedroom to the landing where our stairway split in two, one side toward the kitchen, one toward the front foyer. (I didn’t know it was called a foyer at the time. I hadn’t been struck with that literary fiction revelation yet.)

Molly’s Characters

On the landing, three windows faced the side yard, and on either side of them were lovely, blank, walls. I drew stick figures as tall as my four-year-old self all along the peach-colored walls. Much like the cheery friends my granddaughter Molly created on this card she gave me. Happy friends. Friends to play with. Characters. Characters who laughed and sang and danced with me until…we woke Mom and I got spanked. Perhaps that’s why I flinch when I send a manuscript off for editing.

When I taught high school English, I told my students, all writing does not happen with words on paper. That’s why many of my pre-writing strategies for students included varied methods of expressing ideas…such as drawing. One of my favorite pre-writing activities was in preparation for a personal essay during my To Kill a Mockingbird unit. We brainstormed “Games I Played as a Child,” and students covered the chalkboard as they listed their examples like “Red Rover, Ghost, Capture the Flag” or board games like Risk, Monopoly, or Dungeons and Dragons. What was interesting was that most of them talked about games that occurred on summer evenings before the streetlights went on, not video games.

Next, I handed out crayons and blank paper. Using their non-dominant hand, they had to draw a picture of themselves and their friends playing their games. As they drew, something magical happened. Their language changed. Sentences became shorter, words simpler, syntax less sophisticated. They chattered as they worked, not realizing they sounded more like first graders than high school students. While their choice for personal essay topic was open, many of them wrote about playing these games and insights they had as they reflected on those memories. These were some of the best pieces of writing I got throughout the year.

Perhaps the next time I’m drafting a story, I should do what Harold did and use a purple crayon. The influence of a novel approach is powerful. (No pun intended.)

So, when did I know when I wanted to be a writer? I can tell you the exact moment. And the spanking was worth it.

When did you know you were a writer?


12 thoughts on “When Did You Know You Were a Writer?

  1. Diane Burton says:

    That’s hard to pinpoint. I decided I would write a book to be published 23 yrs ago. I didn’t have the desire to write before that–other than in h.s. when my girlfriend and I would write fan fiction (didn’t know that’s what it was called back then). I’d read forever. I’d gotten hooked on romances when my kids were little. I thought I could write a better story. Hah! The editors who read my amateurish stories were kind with their rejections. It took 10 yrs before my 1st book was pubbed, and another 10 before my 2nd (life happened). I’m so glad I persisted.

  2. I’m so glad your spanking didn’t terminate your storytelling! I think I started writing when I read an awful book and decided I could do better. Of course, my first attempts were laughable, but they were learning experiences, as everything in life is.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      What a great attitude, Patricia. Yes, I think we grow as writers with each book. I’m glad you read that awful book because I certainly enjoy yours.

  3. Alyssa Alexander says:

    Fantastic post…and I suddenly want to plot using crayons and my left hand. 🙂 I can pinpoint my epiphany to Young Authors Night in third grade, circa 1986. I was hooked!

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Do it! What can go wrong with a purple crayon, right? I loved Young Author Nights. I’m glad you were inspired, Alyssa.

  4. I was a storyteller first. I told stories in my head. Made up stories as I played with plastic horses. Gave different endings to movies I saw, or continued the movie. All in my head. To actually, seriously, think I could write one didn’t occur until I was 40 and read a book I thought I could have written…only better. That’s when the stories moved from head to paper.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      And I’m glad they did, Maris! I so enjoy your mysteries. I love that you were a storyteller first 🙂

  5. I have been making up stories my whole life, whenever I was bored or lonely! I used to fill pages of notebooks and odd scraps of paper with doodles and notes, but I never dared to write on the walls! My daughters, however, have scribbled all over our house. 2 little artists in the making ?

  6. Elizabeth Meyette says:

    I can’t wait until your daughters write their first books, Catherine. ?I imagine they keep you very busy, but I hope you’re still writing, too.

  7. Dred Scott de Caen says:

    I’ve been purpling my whole crazy life. Harold is a childhood hero of mine. But I really resist writing with my non-dom right hand. I fought the nuns of St. Rose de Lima hard to write with my left, and have knuckle scars to prove it. I recommitted myself to writing in a mental hospital in Falls Church, VA in 2000, and, despite the product being pretty scrambled for years after the shock treatments, I still fill notebook after notebook with longhand surrealist prosetry. Last few years some of it is getting borderline intelligible. I just let it keep flowing out and figure the muddy stream will clear someday. There’s a buncha stories in there waiting to be loosed on an unsuspecting public. So, when did I know I would be a writer? I reckon on about first grade, when I decided being a mommy would be a tough row to Joe with my plumbing.

  8. Elizabeth Meyette says:

    You certainly have a way with words, and whether or not what you have written over the years is ever published is not what giives your words value. The fact that you took time to write them is their worth. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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