I’ve been a writer since I was a tiny weird kid naming crayons and prancing them around my grandmother’s kitchen counter because I hadn’t brought any Barbie dolls.
After my mother’s yelling fits, I would sit alone on my bedroom carpet, curtains drawn, with an empty Happy Meal bucket. I was a girl who lived alone in the woods, and I was cooking up fish stew in my pot for sustenance. I was a survivor.
I was a writer.
My imagination was unbridled.
In the fifth grade, my class was given an assignment to write a story that had to include a set of specific words. I don’t remember what the words were. I think one of them was “key.” A week or so later, the teacher told us she wanted to read one of the stories aloud because it was so good, or something like that. It was mine. I was shocked, and fucking terrified, because I was painfully shy. The only thing I remember about the story and about why the teacher had chosen it was the first line, “It all happened when…”
Ok. Somehow through all my voracious, yet haphazard reading I learned how to drop a reader into a story, but when I tried to write stories later that year, and for years later, they were awkward, embarrassing things. I haven’t kept any of it. I was bold minded, young, self-conscious, precocious, lacking self-esteem, and I was trying too hard to sound like a “real writer.” It was horrible.
I gave up for awhile, started crocheting giant granny squares.
Then one day, late middle school or early high school, I was failing at writing a letter, and my father gave me the most important writing advice of my life, “just write it like you’d say it.”
So I did, in that letter, and in the stories I tried my hand at after. It was easier to write in my voice, than to force my story’s language into some strange amalgamation of all the authors I had read. Of course I wouldn’t have explained it like that then. And I had no idea how important that advice would be, nor how much it would come to shape and define me as a writer.
My dad’s simple advice made me a writer who gravitates toward narratives and narrators with strong voices, a writer who writes in first person most of the time. And when I get stuck what do I do? I read my story out loud or I start talking to myself about it.
I was developing and growing my voice years before I knew that’s what I was doing. All I knew was that writing was easier that way. Writing became as fun as using my Barbies to come up with new episodes of Three’s Company.
I will be forever grateful to my dad for helping to shape me as a writer, even if does write terrible letters.