When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Happy Forum Friday! Today’s question is less business and more personal: When did you know what you wanted to be a writer?

Personally, I’m somewhat iffy on believing in callings, but I feel I have always known I wanted to be a writer.

If I had to point to single revelation it would probably be this:

In elementary school I was reading Megan’s Island by Willo Davis Roberts. It was a page-turner, I remember, and vivid: I can still see the image of a girl tentatively reaching for an overturned canoe to check beneath it.

In fact, it was as I was reading the passage in which that happened that somebody called to me, interrupting the story, and I looked up from the book. Then, when I looked back down and saw text on the page, I realized: though words were what was before me, they were not what I was seeing. The writing, as I read over it, came to life: transported me. I was there, watching the story play out.

That’s when I knew writing was magic. It bewildered me then, it bewilders me now, and well– what kind of person would I be if I didn’t pursue that fascination?

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32 thoughts on “When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

  1. I’m one of those few writers who hated the idea as a child. I didn’t like to write, convinced I didn’t have a creative thought in my head. Hated English class. Wanted nothing to do with analyzing poetry and stories for their “inner meaning.” Then one day my father, who had written and published a number of books on writing — more in the business realm then fiction — shared a manuscript of his first fictional effort. He produced several fiction manuscripts but was never able to get one published back in the day of traditional publishing. But reading that first manuscript sparked something in me. I wanted to try this some day. I spent years having a random thought about an opening line or an opening scene, but not having a clue how to go from there until one day I outlined an entire story in my head on my drive home from work. That was about ten years ago and led to One Night in Bridgeport, as well as another completed novel, three more that are in various stages of completion and something nearing 50 short stories. So, that’s what started it all for me.

    • Thank you for sharing your story– what a powerful one! I’m so glad your father shared his manuscript with you. It’s incredible how that inspiration has manifested and carried you to where you are today! Congratulations again on One Night in Bridgeport. And FIFTY short stories…wow! I hope an anthology will follow 🙂

  2. I was 8 years old reading the Freddy The Pig books by Walter R Brooks. I experienced the same thing. It was amazing to me to be able to see the book, to actually be inside the story(in my head) and not realize that hours would pass without me moving anything but my page turning fingers. I thought, if I could do that, oh boy that would be cool. That is the ultimate high for a writer, I think to have someone tell you that they experienced that from your story would be the moment that you arrived.

    I’ll have to check out Megan’s Island. Sounds like a good one. 😀

    • Freddy the Pig! That’s one I’m not familiar with. An excuse to peruse the children’s books next time I’m in the shop…

      I think you’re right: when somebody else tells our story is real for them, it’s the ultimate validation! Oooh, I can’t wait for that day! 😀

  3. Before I could write I was always telling stories, and then I started writing them down at eight. I loved it and I’ve never stopped. I guess I wanted to be a writer before I even knew it was something you could do as a Job. I don’t remember the age when I realised you could do it as Job but in grade seven in high school everyone had to take turns stand up and tell the class what we wanted to be and I told everyone I wanted to be a writer.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I honestly can’t remember when the idea wasn’t there. There were teachers in elementary school that encouraged me, I know that, but I feel like it was part of me long before I acknowledged that it was there. I wish I could pinpoint a moment like you can!

    • It’s amazing to think of the impacts our teachers have had on us through the years– and I know it’s the same for me: the encouragement of my teachers definitely has helped shape and strengthen my passion for writing.

      But I think, even without a ‘light switch’ moment, knowing the truth for as long as you can remember makes it even more powerful and true 🙂

  5. When I read “Catcher in the Rye” in high school, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to tell the world about all those phonies out there, just like Holden Caulfield did.

  6. I don’t remember how old I was, so I must have been quite young, but I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and i said I wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember anything specific that drove me to that conclusion, it just sort of slipped out. I had a few years in high school where I moved away from writing and wanted to be a photographer, but I came back to writing. And now here I am 🙂 It’s always nice to think that storytelling is something that chooses you. Kind of like wands in Harry Potter.

    • Kyra! I love that– that you compare writing choosing us to the wands choosing their wielders 🙂 It’s the sign of a good story, and perhaps more importantly a sign that you think in terms of story: the mark of a good writer!

      Interesting that you mention photography. I grew up loving art, too, and when I came to college I felt like I had to choose between that and writing. Now I do both…but writing is of course my first love 🙂

      • Ooh, you’re an artist? That’s so cool 🙂 I’ve always liked the idea of making my own art to go with my poems or stories but I’m not very good at drawing or painting. One day I might scrapbook them…

        • Do scrapbook them! That sounds awesome! When all else fails, there’s always collage 🙂

          And I use the term ‘artist’ pretty loosely…ha. I’ve kept illustrated/paste-in/collage/doodle journals and I’m working on a VERY basic illustrated book now, but writing is definitely where I’ve invested more time and effort.

          You should scrapbook some of your poems (in artistic flourish, of course) and then post them on your blog!! 🙂

  7. My love of books started way back when I first read Little Bear and Richard Scarry books with all of the wonderful drawings and characters. My mother read Rose in Bloom to us and we all cried when the reckless Charlie died. My family sort of assumed that other people got to do cool things like write so I became a teacher and preached to a lot of cool kids I convinced could write–and they did with great enthusiasm and fearlessness. Finally when I almost bled to death in a hospital while wide awake I had the usual “oops, life is short thing” happen and decided I’d write a short novel about a clueless Victorian white woman who tries to help Indians assimilate by becoming a missionary, but fails miserably. I threw in some Bible quotes to make it all more authentic, but ended up being more influenced by them than I imagined I would. Once I figured out that the woman’s husband would be a Civil War veteran and morphine addict, I was hooked. After about one hundred awful pages I found my voice–which happened to be a lot more compassionate and less cynical– and realized that I had the power and permission to write the very type of book I wanted to read! Five books into the series I’m even more passionate about writing than ever.

  8. I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer—subconsciously. I can’t remember exactly what prompted me, but in elementary school I used to write detective stories. I would rate them based on their difficulty to solve, and give them to my classmates to read. I vaguely remember that they enjoyed them. 🙂

    But when I was asked what I wanted to be, I always said “a doctor”. I live in a society where the arts—and writers, in particular—are not appreciated (I know, Asians, right?). My parents always pushed me into more “serious” occupations. But I never stopped writing. I wrote poems in high school, but I never got into writing seriously.

    Until about four years ago, when I started to write a few short stories in Indonesian, and my friend told me I should write more often. And here we are.

    Without these three people I wouldn’t have found my passion: (1) The said friend; (2) my private English teacher who introduced me very early on to English stories and fairy tales, and taught me English since I was seven, all the way to high school; (3) my Bahasa Indonesia teacher who gave me the highest score on an essay I wrote in high school.

    The latter would say things like, “I gave you the highest score because your paragraphs are very logically structured, with smooth transitions,” and “Your writing is unique, don’t you ever write like everybody else” (I assume by this he meant other students?) Anyway, what an ego boost! I always remember these words when I don’t feel confident about my writing.

    I think we all need mentors at some point in our journey to find our true calling. I guess like Sir Ken Robinson says in his book, The Element, mentors can help us “recognize” our talents and “lead us to believe that we can achieve something that seemed improbable or impossible to us before we met them.”

    Wow, that was a longer reply than I originally intended. I hope it didn’t bore you. 🙂

    • So true, what you say about mentors. Having those words of affirmation from people we admire is not only encouragement, but I think a form of validation: they help us believe in ourselves and our work. There have absolutely been people like that in my life, and I will forever be grateful for them.

      I think it’s great, Sky, that you’ve pursued writing even against societal (and perhaps parental) expectations and pressures. I count myself lucky to have parents that have encouraged me to pursue my passions– but even in the States, I think, writers are not thought particularly high of. (Certainly some are; but generally-speaking, I think, writing is not seen as prestigious work. Even when it comes to basic schooling, which has been hurting financially in recent years, the arts are usually the first thing to go).

      I love that you wrote detective stories in elementary school! That reminds me of the Clue series, which I used to read at that age. Have you read those?

      Thanks for your reply. Now I’m the one who’s rambling!

      • No I haven’t read the Clue series. I used to read Sherlock Holmes and mostly Japanese detective manga like “Detective Conan” or “Kindaichi”. Hardly literature. :p

        Have you watched Ken Robinson’s epic TED Talks? I think he’s one of the most prominent figures who pushes for education reform—or as he puts it, revolution. The problem is global, really. In Indonesia—where people have adopted the American ways of doing almost everything, for better or worse—education is simply horrible, not to mention expensive.

        And forget about the arts. Such a shame, for a country with such rich and diverse cultures. I hope things will be better soon.

        • Hear, hear.

          Thanks for pointing me to Ken Robinson. I love listening to/watching TED talks when I’m doing a hands-on project or need a break, so I’ll be sure to give him a listen!

        • I watched one of Ken Robinson’s TED talks today (it must have been his second, because he referenced a previous one in it and said he was “picking up” where that left off). I love his vision for education. Hopefully we will see it come to pass. It reminds me both of what I have heard about Evergreen College and the practices of an unusual schoolmaster in Japan during WWII from the book Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window.

          But one of my favorite things Robinson said was not strictly in regards to education: “Life is not linear; it’s organic,” and also that we create our lives as we explore our talents. That definitely rings true for me!

          • I haven’t finished reading Totto-Chan, but it definitely shows a similar vision. That’s the way education should be. In Indonesia, more and more schools adopt this vision, but unfortunately, they are still inaccessible to the underprivileged.

            There’s also another, more disturbing, trend. Governments now seem to favor private and charter schools — following the oh so great Milton Friedman — exacerbating an already broken system. What happened to schools in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina is nothing short of scandalous.

            I, too, hope to see Robinson’s vision come to pass. Education should not be reserved only for the privileged; it should not only mold students’ minds into future Wall Street or corporation slaves. Instead it should prepare citizens, no matter their background, to become the backbone of a country; to contribute to society. And it should not neglect the arts. Otherwise we would all become mindless miscreants living — existing — only to work.

            As Stephen King says, “Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

            Look at me ramble again lol. Can’t seem to help it lately. Even casual conversations always seem to drift off to politics. 😀

          • I loved Totto Chan…definitely recommend it if you have the time! 🙂

            No worries about the politics. All roads (or at least discussions of the major pillars of society) inevitably lead there, I’m sure 😉

            I saw that you wrote another post based off this topic. I’m off to check that out and (more likely than not) continue the conversation there!

            On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 2:03 PM, The Read Room

  9. Pingback: On education, the arts, and writing | bottomless sky

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