For the very first Tuesday’s Topics, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss beginnings. What was the first story you ever wrote, and how old were you when you wrote it?
The first story I can remember clearly was one I wrote in third grade. I don’t recall the title, but it was about a girl who lost her cat. The cat was missing so the girl shifted into Sherlock Holmes mode to find it. The “book” was even illustrated with stick-people and a stick-cat. It’s ironic that it was a mystery; I don’t believe I’ve written a strict mystery since. Nowadays I rarely even read books in the mystery genre–usually only fantasy or paranormal–and I haven’t owned a cat in probably fifteen years. I thought beginnings were supposed to be indicative of future preferences??
I still have a notebook full of short stories that I wrote in junior high. I don’t get it out very often though; the stories make me cringe. In eighth grade I went through a poetry phase, and those resulting poems are in a different notebook. Now I think they’re abysmal, stuffed with cheesy rhymes. My thirteen-year-old niece Victoria writes better poetry than I’ll ever write in my life. It’s certainly a humbling experience to read my early attempts at writing.
But when I was in grade school, writing was something I did for fun. I don’t remember ever thinking, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” It was never something I seriously contemplated. I was a perfectionist, and writing wasn’t something I was perfect at (I didn’t realize at the time that perfection in writing is so much harder to define than perfection in science). I knew I wasn’t talented enough to be a professional writer…and no one ever suggested otherwise until I was in college, when it was too late to pursue writing as a career. When I was in high school (and no doubt there’s even more pressure now), kids were expected to have future goals by sophomore year. You had to know what college you were going to, your major, and the job you would have after graduating. Add in a spouse, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a SUV, and you had yourself the American dream, equivalent to happiness. Although I considered myself a rebel (HA!) in high school because I wasn’t pursuing that version of the American dream. I wanted to be a biologist, some kind of super-female-scientist that would save animals and eventually the world. Okay, so my rambling is becoming exaggerated, but you get the idea. I have to stop myself before I open a whole other topic.
My point is–I was 24 before I thought, “I want to be a professional writer.” My question for you–is that too late?? I know there are authors out there, some very successful, who didn’t go to school to become writers but ended up in this field later on. But then I think about my teenaged nieces, Victoria and Savannah, who already know they want to be writers. At their age, they have years to read as many books as possible, practice writing anything they want, and even go to college to learn more about writing. If they follow that path, they could know ten times as much as I do by the time they’re my age. They’re already talented, and they have the opportunity to become brilliant writers if they want to.
Another question: does it say something about my talent if I didn’t realize until later that I wanted to be a writer? If some authors knew they wanted to be writers at the age of three, does that mean they’re more destined to be successful, more hard-wired for the art of writing? It seems to me that either I’m not talented enough to be a professional writer, or I was too dumb to realize it before. Neither option is appealing, but I’d definitely choose the latter. Don’t we all hope we can outgrow the dumb things we did as kids??
So what do you guys think? Is writing a skill you’re born with (nature), or is it something you can practice and develop over time (nurture)? Can an old dog really learn new tricks?? 🙂 I’d love to hear any thoughts or opinions!
P.S. I apologize if this post sounded too self-deprecating; I didn’t mean for it to be that way. As usual, my ramblings went in an unexpected direction. I don’t actually feel pessimistic about my writing talent. I’m going to keep writing no matter what, even if I am old, clueless, and possessing a scientific–rather than artistic–nature. Because when it’s all said and done, we can’t change our pasts. We can only do the best with what we have and hope to make better decisions in the future.