From a very young age, I felt different from the other kids. While they went outdoors to play, I stayed inside writing in my journal my parents had given me for my eighth birthday, or on whatever spare piece of paper I could find. If I ever found myself without a pencil and paper to jot thoughts down on, I would have a panic attack. I had a habit of stealing pencils, just so that I would always have something on hand. I would just walk off with them and realize later that I hadn’t bought this particular writing instrument.
I never walked off with anything other than pencils or paper.
I had several brothers who liked to tease me at the time, being the only girl. My father, a stranger to girls himself growing up, would tease me as well. My mom understood me. She was a voracious reader, and an aspiring writer herself. She would bring home boxes of books from the library and read every last one of them. Our home was filled to the ceiling with books. She would tell me stories about my grandmother, and show me the ads for Campbell’s Soup she tried to write in the fifties. At times like that, it felt like I truly had writing in my blood, but still I held back out of fear that someone would tell me I couldn’t.
I was a library ghost who haunted the shelves of my local library, reading anything and everything. I checked out piles of books, and sometimes read them, sometimes not. Just holding a pile of books in my arms made me feel rich. The freedom to choose whatever I wanted was exhilarating. However, the only time I ever saw my other friends in there was when they were doing school reports and had to be there. I felt weird, and shared my passions with no one.
Fast forward a few hormone-soaked years. I had joined drama, and found a great creative outlet that forced me a few inches further out of my painful black box of shyness. I turned out to be pretty good at acting out and directing stories. I began to dream of a story…a one-act play that I could write. We had just gotten a new word processor in our home, and I was learning typing on my mother’s insistence, with the happy discovery that typing now allowed me to write whatever happened to be in my head, as soon as I thought it.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned about the necessity of backing up yet. My entire 20-page opus was one day lost when the computer’s power went down. The agony of that moment I remember to this day, and I have not as yet rewritten that play, even though the story remains in my head to this day as well.
After six months in New York City (where I came to the conclusion that people who don’t like being looked at shouldn’t act), I worked a series of desk jobs to try and pay off my school loans. While no one was looking, I would put my work computer to good use and write constantly. A lot of it was for work, but some of it, I confess, was my own. I tried to be honest about it, but my desires to feel those fingers flying over the keyboards began to run away with me. I would continue to write on the bus to and from work…anything and everything. In particularly poignant moments, poetry. Pouring out my heart and my frustration in more and more journal entries. Writing lists of what I wanted to do, ideas for stories, details about the people around me for future characters.
Finally, after I had been married for a few years, it finally all came out in the open. I was turning into desert dust inside, and it was because I had no writing outlet. I was trying to do what everyone else wanted, and none of it felt right. I hadn’t honored my feelings, because they didn’t make any money, and no one would understand my terrible desires of stepping out of my life completely to ruin my life in literary solitude.
Fortunately, my husband understood. The Internet was coming into its own, and there was a class for screenwriting on AOL…did I want to take it? I knew now why I loved this man.
I loved my class. The other students were encouraging, and gave me comments that they thought would help my first modest efforts to come together better. My teacher gave me her comments, and then at the end she said simply, “You have talent.”
I read that statement over and over. I wanted to emboss it on a T-shirt and wear it until it dissolved and became part of the fibers of my skin. I wanted to believe that, and I was starting to.
I returned to college, and my teachers gave me more great feedback on my writing. I learned how to rewrite and polish. Joining AC was the first time I’d ever been published anywhere, and gave me tremendous confidence in my own voice. I got sweaty palms in sharing my work with others, but found that I didn’t need to worry.
Monetary compensation doesn’t matter (as much) anymore. What matters is the rattling of the keys and the organization and the quiet thought and the creation and the soaring feeling that comes when it’s gleaming and white and perfect. The frustration and struggle, when your perfect piece turns to crap the next day and you’re searching for a way to fix it. Those moments when the answer you’re searching for just comes to you, and you stop everything you’re doing to write it down.
My secret’s no secret anymore. I’m a writer, paid or unpaid, because I write and I love every minute of it.