How I Became a Writer

All things come to me slowly. I wish it weren’t so. I love stories of epiphany, of lightning bolt inspiration. But my consciousness river is turbulent with questions of creativity, of ethics, of purpose. What is heavy enough to withstand the agitation and upheaval–what isn’t thrown loose–remains on the riverbed, tumbling until it is finally (and I hope finely) polished.

The idea that I am a writer has rolled through my life for many years. In all that time, I have jotted ideas on napkins and index cards, fleshed them out in journals, written drafts of stories and novels, and eventually begin sending work out that felt ready for publication. I’ve been thrilled to have stories, essays and book reviews published because the end game of writing is communication with the reader, the beginning of a dialogue. I write because I want to live in the world of ideas.

So without being able to pinpoint an epic moment of clarity, I can only say that I knew I wanted to be a writer because I first knew I wanted to be a reader. I have mentioned in essays my wonderful third grade teacher, Miss Shuck, who took me for a reader before I knew I was interested. Seeing that I had a knack for words, she didn’t torture me with the Dick and Janes of the day, but handed me a high school English anthology and let me have at it. Back then these texts were a bit more moralistic than they are now; nevertheless, the stories were compelling, and I found myself reflected in them in a way that made me begin to think of myself as part and parcel of the community. I remember a particular story about an overweight girl who was to participate in a bicycle race. She was trying to eat right and practicing the route. She worked hard. And yet on the day of the race, she ended up taking a shortcut–unseen–and winning. While everyone was celebrating, she admitted to her teacher that she had cheated. Her honors would be stripped. This felt to me the bravest of behaviors because that girl was going to catch hell. I was a bit overweight myself, and I liked to think that I had the same honor in me.

Connecting with someone else’s story while reading is the first step for anyone who becomes a writer. Its natural sequel is the sense that the reader, too, has a story to tell. She then goes about the difficult task of working to tell it right.

Reading just about anything, no matter how unconnected to my own stories, is always inspiration for writing. At a writers’ conference this fall, I was surprised to hear author Lisa See report that she doesn’t read while she is writing. She’s afraid that the style and tone of the book might influence her own work, taking it out of her voice. I can’t imagine how this happens. In preparation to write, I will often listen to poetry as I walk or hike. (Yeats has a way of pulling ideas and images from the depths of consciousness as do old epics such as Beowulf and Gilgamesh). I’m no poet, but what a wonderful place to begin in listening. How lucky I am to have a multitude of voices, calling me to join with them in conversation.

Note: Today the DIY MFA Book Club begins. This blog post is in answer to the first writing prompt: “How did you become a writer?” It looks like a fun group. The prompts and discussion will be based on Gabriela Pereira’s book DIY MFA. Wanna join? Check for the Facebook Group ‘Word Nerds Unite.’

4 Replies to “How I Became a Writer”

  1. I’m working on commonplace books with my students. I’m going to share with them your paragraph: “Connecting with someone else’s story while reading is the first step for anyone who becomes a writer. Its natural sequel is the sense that the reader, too, has a story to tell. She then goes about the difficult task of working to tell it right.” Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. That’s great that you are using with your students–thanks! And I think it’s wonderful that you are having them work on commonplace books. They’ll enjoy looking back at those in the future.

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