When did you start writing?

On her blog, Jodie Llewellyn posed the question “When did you start writing?” and invited her readers to answer. I suspect my answer is going to be on the long side, so I’m bringing the question back here.

The short answer is: I don’t actually remember.

I do remember being nine years old and writing a project on the arctic fox for my grade four class. My teacher that year had held up my notebook to the class to shame me over the state of my handwriting, and as I was laboriously copying out my text for the project with a blunt pencil, I thought, “how can I be a writer when I hate handwriting so much?” I have such a clear memory of that. Apparently I already knew at age nine.

The first story I remember writing was the year I was thirteen. I sat in the little office area my mum had set up in the unfinished basement of our house and wrote on her old typewriter about mermaid girls who lived in an underwater country called Flamania. I found that typed page recently among my old notebooks full of writing, but didn’t reread it. Again, the memory is so clear. I remember the weight of the typewriter keys as I pressed them, and the smell of the basement, and the exact shade of brown of the floor joists above my head.

When I was fifteen I started writing fan fiction, although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I was a Star Trek geek that year, and read all the tie-in books, and I decided I wanted to write my own. I wrote to Pocket Books to inquire about this possibility, and I was so proud when they mailed me back the author guidelines. I felt like I was being taken seriously. I would bring my handwritten pages of fan fiction to school to share with my best friend Sara, and she would write me notes in class about all the things she thought should happen in the story. Sadly, we never finished it.

By my late teens I knew that I wouldn’t be a writer as my primary career, but I also remember standing at the top of the basement stairs and telling my dad that no matter what else I did, I would always write.

Last year, I took a couple of continuing education classes in creative writing, more than twenty years after that first story I wrote on my mom’s typewriter. Those classes provided the right information at the right time, and I felt something shift in my writing. I feel like I took a step from being an aspiring author to being an emerging author. I don’t know that this is a meaningful distinction anywhere but inside my own head, but it meant a lot to me. My confidence in my ability has grown.

In the last six months or so I’ve been sending out my stories to magazines, online and off. So far, I’m collecting rejection letters, but one day there’ll be an acceptance in the mix. And I’ll have another milestone to remember.

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