I believe it all started with being an avid reader. As soon as I could recognise the letters of the alphabet I was rather enthusiastic about sounding out words wherever I could see them. My sources tell me that I would sit in the car and gleefully sound out all the words I could see as we drove along. Just so you know, small things still entertain my small mind.
At the age of 7 I dabbled a bit in the art of telling stories but as you can see it didn’t go quite to plan:
I didn’t even finish my first sentence. Sigh. A flick through this notebook shows that I was thankfully more successful with later attempts. I am, however, happy to see that even at this young age I was not predisposed to telling stories that were all about me, taking a mere four sentences before I got ‘board’ with writing about myself and my day. Also, my stories may have improved, but I believe my handwriting has unfortunately deteriorated since this time.
So, up until about the age of 10, I concentrated on my love of reading. I remember during my school years in England having book lists and participating in reading competitions. I would stay up late and read as many books as I could from the designated lists and ask family members to sponsor my reading challenges. I should probably note here that I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about the texts they asked us to read in High School. Shakespeare vs titles such as “I Want My Potty!” There was no contest really.
Then 1995 came. The year my family moved to Australia. A new country, a new school and what seemed like a new language. The words that I had loved chanting in the car for all those years, suddenly became a point of interest and cause for light hearted jest to my new young Australian comrades. “Listen to how she says darrrnce! It’s daaance!” I was already quite shy, but I retreated some more, embarrassed by the accent that coincidentally I now wish I still had.
Nonetheless, the words didn’t disappear just because I no longer spoke them so often. Instead of speaking them I found great pleasure in writing them. Within my first few months at that primary school I had won my first writing award. I believe I wrote a riveting piece on dolphins, with a hand drawn illustration to match (N.B. My artistic career was not so successful). My career as a writer had begun, and that trophy still sits on my bookshelf with pride of place. Coincidentally, my new best friend was most displeased by my success, as she had won this particular award the previous year. As young children sometimes are, she became quite cruel with jealousy and not long after, I transferred to a different school where I was not laughed at for my accent, and made a new best friend who is still my best friend today. Happy endings all round.
Meanwhile, I continued to pursue my budding career as a writer and just before my 11th birthday became a member of the Starfish Young Writers Club. Their motto: “The very next starfish star could be you!” I was quite determined to become a starfish star. Today I found a few things they sent me when I joined. One being a welcome note from the publisher, and another a poster to put on my wall. I find that the advice they gave me as an 11 year old, still applies at 25 and probably will for a very long time to come:
Granted, these days the boxes are more along the lines of folders on our computers, and instead of ‘terrible stories’ and ‘great stories’ they’re called ‘absolute crap’ and ‘not so crap’. But the message remains the same. Practice and just keep writing. It all keeps coming back to those relatively straightforward words of wisdom. The manner in which we write may have changed with the speedy evolution of desktop computers and the internet, mostly to our benefit as writers, but the way we write, the way that we become better writers, is still the same. Practice.
Over a decade later and here I am, still happily writing away and enjoying the process of telling stories and sharing them with others.
My ‘terrible stories’ box, however, remains quite a bit fuller than my ‘great stories’ box, but as far as I can tell, even the most successful writers have this problem. As the poster says, “You need to do lots of terrible writing, too. And in between, you’ll write something great.”