As a writer, I’m always curious about other writers and how they came to write and publish books. When I read through their author bios and interviews, it all seems to stem from an indescribable and insatiable need to figure out the world with pen and paper. Some of them always have written, and some seem to have fallen into it later in life. But, for every bio or interview I read, it seems that everyone says the same thing: being a writer isn’t just what they do, it’s who they are.
I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. My middle sister and I (I am the youngest of three sisters) shared a room for most of our elementary school years. We would wait until our parents had tucked us snuggly in our separate beds, wished us “good night” and we had heard their footsteps stop creaking on the stairs before we untangled ourselves from sheets and climbed into bed together. We usually played with our dolls, but sometimes we’d squeeze in next to each other, arm to arm, and I would create bedtime stories to tell her. The typical starring character was my sister’s pet hamster, Andy, who would travel in his owner’s pocket with her to school. When Andy passed away, I used the stories as a way for us to remember Andy and navigate our way through our first real experience with death.
I also loved to write stories down on paper. As soon as I could write, I wrote out short stories of make-believe talking cats who befriended girls and a talking bear named Freddy Lottus who missed his friend who moved away. As a kid, I loved to read, but I sometimes wished for other stories, so I wrote them myself. I used writing to figure out life and experience things I couldn’t fathom doing myself.
My third-grade teacher, Ms. McKemey, loved children’s books and often read to us, especially Jan Brett’s books. It was her love of books that gave me the courage to show her my story The Adventures of Freddy Lottus. She encouraged me to work on it and publish it. And while I never did, she made me believe that publishing my writing was not only a dream but was entirely plausible.
Over the years, I’ve always written with the underlying dream of publishing my writing. As a freshman in high school, I showed more of my writing to my Careers teacher, Mr. Rutschman, who also encouraged me to publish. Through my freshman year English teacher, Mr. Leet, my senior year English teacher, Ms. Latimer, and my high school French teacher, Ms. Williams, I garnered a love of language and grammar that rivaled my love for storytelling.
Words to me are like an artist’s medium. I see a scene, and words pop into my head to describe it. I see an interesting person sitting on the bus or walking down the street and I imagine short stories of their lives. I have scraps of papers, small notebooks, and the “notes” on my phone filled with little snippets of scenery and verbal portraits of people. My confidence as a writer has faltered at times, but even if I never write the next Great American Novel (which, realistically, I know I won’t), I still can’t escape the words that flood my mind.
I sat with a dear friend (also a writer) the other night and talked with her about writing and how it fits in our lives. She and I have known each other our whole lives, and we grew up swapping our stories in the summers. We have grown up to choose different careers, but we both have been drawn back to writing. She said something to me when we were reminiscing (and this is a very rough paraphrase!), “Melanie, we grew up writing in the summers. We were the weird kids that wrote instead of played. If that doesn’t make you a writer, I don’t know what does.”
And it’s true. Many times people choose their vocations, but sometimes, it’s just who you are.