Today, Thursday, and early next week, I’ll take a look at the history of writing in my life, from my first book ever (age 7!) to getting an MFA and beyond.
I’ve thought of myself as a writer for most of my life. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing something. Writing in my life has manifested in so many ways.
My very first book ever was both written and illustrated by a six-or-seven-year-old me. For years, the stapled paper lived under my bed, though I can only surmise it’s long since been thrown away. The most I remember about it is this: I illustrated it myself, by crayon, which meant awful stick figures and bright colors, and it told the story of a girl who met a boy and they fell in love and got engaged. Because, if I’m remembering correctly, the final page in the story featured a very large diamond ring drawn onto it. And thus endeth my first story.
In grade school and middle school, I recall inventing an other persona with my best friend Sara. She did the same. Instead of writing notes to each other during class to exchange in the hallways, we wrote notes as our other persona to each other’s other persona. I wish I knew where these notes were. I often wonder if Sara’s kept the ones I wrote. I vaguely remember the name Shawntell and an island off the coast of North Carolina. We invented an entire world for these note-writers. We invented original characters and mashed up writing and play-acting to give them voice.
As part of the gifted program in middle school, I co-wrote an adventure “novel” that was illustrated by my dear friend Margaret. I wrote it with another girl in the program, Theresa, whom I’m pretty sure grew up to be a scientist or a doctor or something awesome like that. It was about a family stuck on a deserted island (I think). My mom probably still has it, since it was bound and everything and looks like a book. Obviously, since it was an ‘on top of everything else’ project at school, I was committed. I should probably go find it, read it, and laugh.
Another ‘on top of everything else’ writing thing I did was in high school, when I was old enough to drive, because I drove to it. It was some “internship” or something — I don’t remember what it was called. But it was once a month and a writing workshop. I wrote (and never finished) a story about a girl in love with her teacher (you can’t say I don’t write what I know, but that’s a story for another time). I don’t remember anything else about it except that I clearly drew the plot from my fantasy life. It’s probably good that it’s unfinished and long gone. But I did write a lot of “fantasy” original fiction. As in, things I wanted to happen and didn’t but, by hell, I was going to write them into existence somehow.
Original writing morphed into fanfiction. I’m embarrassed to admit to the amount of fanfiction I wrote in middle school, high school, and my early years of college. And to the fact that my first ever fanfiction was notebooks filled with stories of Days of Our Lives characters. Yes, seriously, I may as well just admit it. Otherwise it was “Star Trek: Voyager” fanfiction. It was original character (read: Mary Sue to the ridiculous degree) Star Trek fanfiction. It was inventing an entire life in the future for me amid my favorite flyboy, Tom Paris. I made online friends at this time, co-wrote with them, learned of the existence of online fanfiction forums and galleries and websites. I had my own website (on geocities, so I can’t share it, but oh how I wish I could). My friend Erin, most especially, was a huge influence in my writing at this time. I used one of her characters, I created characters in my future world based on my friends. (Another example of the whole ‘living out a fantasy in writing’ that I was good at.) This was the closest to “novel-length” I first got. I don’t know the word count. It would be interesting to go back and find out.
This opened up a whole new world for me: the internet. Sharing my writing (albeit fanfiction) with readers. Seeing their responses. Fanfiction.net. Livejournal. Everywhere and anywhere. Star Trek, “X-Files,” Harry Potter, Superman, “Smallville,” even Clay Aiken. (If I’m admitting to everything, I might as well admit to that, too.) I wrote a lot. Through high school, through college, after college. I wouldn’t say that I was only writing fanfiction, though, because I wasn’t. I was writing it and original fiction. Looking back on it all, the amount of writing I did amid school, working, extra-curriculars, and a (somewhat) social life is amazing.
But it really wasn’t until college that I understood the importance of using what I knew and loved from fanfiction and the internet to write and, more importantly, enjoy writing original fiction. I’ll explore my more recent writing history in part two later this week.