Of all the questions that kids ask me during my school author presentations, one throws me more than any other: when did you know you wanted to be a writer? (I know what you’re thinking – “Seriously, Al, that’s it? Not even ‘what’s your favourite book ever?’ or ‘how much money do you make?’ or ‘how old are you anyway?'”)
I think the reason I find it so difficult is that I know the answer is meant to be something along the lines of ‘always’ or ‘I wrote my first novel at the age of 4 and my mum has preserved it forever’. But that’s simply not true.
The answer is that I wrote my way into my ‘writer’ story in much the same way as I write my way into any story, feeling my way, following the tangents, trusting that the path will open up as I go.
To be clear, I’ve always liked writing. I have diaries with the requisite bad poetry and the weird little snippets of impressions about various people and events in my life. I got great marks in English at school, so I knew I was halfway okay at it (which always makes you like something, right?). I have always, always been a voracious reader.
But I thought that Other People became writers. Other, Much Smarter People. It simply never occurred to me that I could be one of them. I became a magazine features writer after I’d started at a publishing house as a secretary and then served a solid apprenticeship as a sub-editor. I got to the point where I realised I was sick of fixing other people’s words and that I could do better (What can I say? I was full of the confidence of youth…).
I started writing fiction a few years later because I decided I’d read so many books I might as well have a ‘crack at it’, and I discovered I liked it so much I couldn’t stop.
So when those kids ask me about when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I tell them that I think I always did, I just didn’t know how to admit it to myself. And then we talk about the importance of ‘having a crack’ at anything you think you might like to do.
It’s not quite the expected fairytale, but, then, I’ve always like a good twist.
What about you? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Like you I was good at English in school and loved stringing words together to make them shine not just sit in a sentence.
I also loved reading and it was the pleasure I got from reading Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew books aged eight or nine that made me think I wanted to write and create my own worlds with words.
Hi Zohra, reading is always a gateway to writing, I think. So hard to write if you don’t read! A
My little sister used to stay up all night, worried about ghosts and aliens in her closet. My mom sat me down one day, “Angie, we need you to be the big sister now. We need you to help keep your sister safe.” They didn’t mean that I had some special power to ward off monsters, they just wanted me to keep her company. Into my room she moved. Every night I’d tell her a story. At nine years old I made up stories about nice creatures that went on journeys, all with happy endings. My fourth grade teacher invited me to write these stories down for extra credit. Who doesn’t like extra credit? I wasn’t born a writer, but the storyteller in me needed a medium for expression. I can’t draw or dance. But I can write. And I hope I keep getting better at it.
Great answer Angela! 🙂
I like your story much better than ‘I’ve always wanted to be a writer’.
I think I’m a bit the same. I’ve always loved (creative) writing – it was one of my favourite subjects at school. But, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that writing was something that I could “do”. It was close to ten years ago when a friend suggested I should write stories. I’m not sure exactly when *I* decided it though – possibly when I realised how rewarding and enjoyable it was?
Yes, I think that’s a great moment for any writer!