The first time I wrote a story I was about ten.
I typed it out on my father’s prize Apple iMac where I’d also spent countless hours creating complex slide shows of Sailor Moon images that I then forced upon my family in varying degrees of oblivious horror (to equally horrific music expertly timed with the slides). This is not relevant, but it is pretty embarrassing and funny.
The story was about a clan of elves and they had multicolored hair and eyes. Pink, purple, and of course, lots of green because it was my favorite color. They spoke a language that I had devised by switching the first two (or three) letters in a word around and they liked to sing pretty much all the time. My main character was a human boy and his sister was an elven half-breed whom his family had adopted. People in their village made fun of her a lot and the boy would become very defensive. I recall lots of sword fights, poorly constructed romances, and a child’s understanding of death and tragedy, which included a lot of very flowery and heroic death scenes. Not to mention vomit worthy dialogue, if I could find it, I would love to give you an example, but alas, that great piece of literature was lost. I think I wrote about twenty-four fairly legitimate chapters of what might be contrived as utter garbage. However, it stills stands as the second longest story I have ever written, even fifteen years later. (The first is something I wrote in college and may never, ever see the light of day.)
I was high off of my story. It was all I thought about. I dreamed, breathed and ate that story for months and months. I spent hours at school during my recess mapping out my imaginary world, plotting the heroics of my wayward protagonist with heady and wild abandon. I created maps carefully detailing, mountain ranges, seas and rivers; I built cultural costumes and devised for myself unrealistic hair expectations. I was, in my mind, a miniature God. I had never felt so powerful.
Then I made a huge mistake. I showed someone.
My parents had previously listened to me ramble about my ideas with the sort of vague pride and acknowledgment most overworked parents contrive, and they only encouraged and uplifted. They never criticized; they never uttered a negative word. At the time my ‘uncle’ (otherwise known as my father’s frequently unemployed friend from high school) was living in our garage. He made cool things and told nice stories. We got along tolerably well when I wasn’t blasting Backstreet Boys early on a Sunday morning. He asked to read what I was writing and, in my ignorant fervor, I was beside myself with anticipation. Someone was interested. Someone wanted to read my spectacularly crafted masterpiece!
Used to the praise of my basically uninterested but encouraging parents, I was unprepared for his less than uplifting comments. He immediately figured out the language I was so proud of. I had felt very clever creating it (I would argue it was moderately clever for a 10 year old). I didn’t feel clever anymore. He found gaping plot holes I had never even considered with the ease most people navigate their own living room. He made the entire world I had meticulously constructed seem like the hastily glued together Popsicle-stick bird house my sister had brought home from her preschool that day. I was crushed, broken, utterly vanquished.
He was right of course, but that didn’t really ease the awful pain of reality. At 10 it felt as though someone had run up and stomped all over my life’s work. I didn’t think in dollars and fame at this age, but I understood in a distorted sense that I’d had my first dose of hard reality. I wasn’t a very confident child (or grown adult-child) and this stunted my creative drive for a long while (permanently?).
I don’t know if I was ‘born’ to write (I’m not really sure any of us are necessarily born to do anything), but it certainly called to me. I wanted to create something, from the start, that would affect someone else as much as my favorite books had affected me. I wanted to build a world and create characters that had offered me such a wonderful refuge against the bullies at school and the confusion of my mentally ill mother. Now that someone had shown me the error of my ways, I picked myself off the metaphorical chopping block and grew determined to do this whole writing thing ‘properly.’
I made the unfortunate decision of researching book publishing tips (I was 12ish by this time) and I was mortified but what I found. The hard facts turned my pleasurably fantasies into emotionless, hard, logical necessities. They converted mystical worlds into cold dollars and magicians morphed into unforgiving critics.
I learned that imagination does not compensate for skill and knowledge. That all the imagination in the world cannot make up for poor writing quality and that even some of my favorite books had been harshly criticized. And if my writing heroes could be torn down and dragged through the literary mud, what chance did I stand of even rising from the primordial ooze? I realized quickly that my ideas, no matter how brilliant, would not overshadow my lack of personal voice or poor writing flow. Something that had been beautiful and gratifying suddenly seemed dark and daunting.
So, I hid. I hid for a very long time. I was a closet crack addict. I wrote in dark rooms in the deepest hours of the night and never let a page reach the light of day. If I stepped out into the jaded platform of the internet, it wasn’t under my own name. I loved writing and I was horrified by the prospect that someone would take it away from me. It took me a very long time to come to terms with the knowledge that no one could actually take my writing from me. I could go my entire life never finishing, producing or publishing a thing and I would still be a writer. Because, inside, that’s who I was, I had chosen it, and that’s all there was to it.
I am no longer hiding. I am a writer. I don’t profess to be a great one, or even a particularly good one. But I am a writer none the less and I plan to spend the rest of my life growing into the art form I love, in trying to recapture that wild, creative joy that I’d felt as a child. That helpless and all-consuming abandon that I can feel hovering just on the horizon. I will keep at it until, one day, I can touch the life of someone else as deeply and profoundly as the authors I love and cherish have touched mine.
I am a writer, and may the universe have mercy on my soul.