I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When Did You Become a Writer?

With seven children, it’s not often that I’m in a waiting room (or anywhere else) alone. So I don’t often experience the opportunity to observe strangers, or “people watch,” as my mother likes to say, and make up stories about their lives, which has been a pastime of mine for as long as I can remember.

Pat Trainum’s wonderfully humorous Ponderer's post “You Might Be a Writer . . .” got me wondering when I became a writer.

Was it when . . .

. . . I won a first chapter fiction contest? Did that make me a writer?

Or before then, when . . .

. . . I actually entered a writing contest?

Maybe, when . . .

. . . I stopped hiding my fiction from my friends and finally declared, “I am a writer.”

. . . or way back when I tried imitating Beverly Cleary’s teen books like Fifteen and Jean and Johhny and wrote a few chapters of a romance — while I was in junior high.

Or . . . did I become a writer much earlier than that?

Our family was one of modest means. But I went to bed hungry only as a punishment, not because there wasn’t food in the house. I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood, where we were fortunate to have what we needed without too much of keeping up with the Jones next door, who were also lower-middle class. The toys for four children in our family mostly fit into one large, wooden toy box, but my sister and I also owned a foot-high stack of paper dolls, which we played with for hours.The Dress Shoppe with three sisters and their lavish wardrobe. Snow White, the Seven Drawfs, and the Prince. Ten children in native costumes from around the world. Barbie. You name it: If it was printed in the late '60s or early '70s, we probably had it. Heck, we even had The Addams Family.

The elaborate stories I created for my paper characters may have been my first foray into fiction.

Or maybe the Barbie dramas I enacted?

Or possibly the stuffed animals and dolls I played with.

Maybe I’ve been weaving stories around whatever cast of characters I found on hand for as long as I can remember.

What do you think? Must you be a published author or have acquired an agent to call yourself a writer? Are you a writer if you write every day or actively pursue a writing career instead of merely think of writing as a hobby? Is it when you take your craft to a new level and treat your work, deadlines and writing time seriously?

Tell me, at what point did you become a writer? What events influenced you?

~Roxanne Sherwood


  1. I became a writer when I started plagiarizing the authors I was reading . . . 'round about 7th grade. I started writing my "own" stories, but they sounded shockingly similar to the books I'd checked out of the local library! Ah, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes? And you have to start somewhere.
    Or was it when my 8th grade teacher read my poem "Ode to a Cold" aloud to the class--and the other students laughed? (It was supposed to be funny! Whew!)
    Great question, Roxanne!

  2. I, too, was weaving stories at a young age. My mom has a box full of "books" I "self-published" (translation: wrote on half sheets of paper with crayon illustrations and then folded and stapled between pieces of construction paper). In the 4th grade, I was picked to attend a young authors conference with my book "How Santa Got a Fake Beard." (Maybe you've heard of it?) I was given a gold sticker on the cover of my book, kind of like a Caldecott or Newberry medal. I was a writer...the sticker said so. In 9th grade, I had to turn in my mystery assignment incomplete because the teacher didn't give me enough time to write 50,000 words. I actually had to attach a synopsis to it, so my teacher would know how it ended. (Maybe this was practice for the Genesis and/or Frasier...) At my 9th grade graduation, I won the Elaine Hurley Creative Writing Award. My name was inscribed on a shiny gold plate and attached to the award to hang in the trophy case at my junior high forever. (Or at least until it burned down a few years ago.)

    I was a writer. Everyone told me I was. And I went to college, to major in creative writing. I figured I would write the Great American Novel before I even graduated. Unfortunately, my sophomore year in college I met a bitter and frustrated (read: unpublished) professor who scoffed at my writing, told me I was shallow and would never amount to anything as a writer, and gave me a C- in his Creative Writing class. A C Minus--that is almost failure!! So, instead of listening to everyone up to that point who encouraged me to write, I listed to one cranky guy and I stopped writing. I dropped out of college and went to cosmetology school. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED doing hair. But I didn't write for TWENTY years because I listened to ONE professor and that one bad grade. Sad, but true.

    So was I ever really a writer? Do I get to call myself a writer now? I think so. I think I am a writer, as long as I am actually moving forward, educating myself and putting words on paper. At least that is what I keep telling myself. I am trying to listen the encouraging words of my fellow writers. But that one guy, from 1988, his voice is so loud. Why does it take so many positive comments to drown out one insignificant one?

    Anyone else have that guy?

  3. Oh wow. That was really long. I'm sorry! I guess once I start writing I can't stop! You inspired me, Roxanne!! =)

  4. I loved Fifteen. I lost count of the number of times I read it. Such a fun, angsty book. I can still remember lines and scenes from the book. Now I want to find a copy and put on my bookshelf. :)

    I've always loved to read, but the writing bug didn't hit me until I was 16 and reading novels way too old for me. After reading Danielle Steele's The Promise, I knew I wanted to give others that same heart-satisfying ending.

    I really truly felt like a writer when I completed my first novel. Whether a person is published or not, if they write, then they are a writer.

  5. Oh, by the way, did you know Beverly Cleary used to be the librarian at the library where Debbie Macomber hung out?

  6. I was always a reader, getting books from the library on my mother's card becasue you couldn't get a card yourself unless you were in 1st grade. In the 10th grade I stayed up all night reading Exodus by Leon Uris, even read Mitchner's loooong Hawaii. Then one day these people came to live in my head. And they wouldn't go away. They told me stories about their lives and I started putting them down on paper. I pecked out a short story to Woman's World on an old Corona portable, then when they accepted it, I bought an electric Royal. I was in heaven. When they bought my next one, I got a computer.

    All this to say I believe I became a writer, not when my first story sold, but the day I started listening to the voices in my head and putting what they said on paper.

    Great post, Roxanne!

  7. Roxanne, thank you. This is ssweet and totally charming. and I'm thankful you have met your modern-life prince charming.
    In my elem. school years, we literally lived across the street from a library--perfect. Besides school work, I read on average 2 books every day--formative. I started writing in 3rd grade - grew from there - so glad for that means of expression even before I knew it meant label of being "a writer."

  8. So, for Christmas my little sister put all my family's home movies on dvd for all of us. Such a special present. Well, I've been watching some of them. In like 3/4 of them, whenever something hilarious or crazy is happening, the rest of the kids are wigging out...and I'm in the corner recording the whole thing in a notebook. Seriously, I make a really boring home movie subject 'cause I'm always either nose-in-a-book or writing.

    So when did I become a writer? Hmm, I'll have to rewatch the home movies to figure out when it first started, but I'm guessing I was seven with a Mead notebook and pencil in hand...:)

    Fun post, Roxanne!

  9. Oh, I've so enjoyed the stories about your writing journeys--except for Heidi's. I'd like to deck that professor! Dee, I am so envious that you lived across the street from the library. Lisa, what a fun fact about Beverly Cleary and Debbie Macomber.

    Thanks to all who've shared this morning!

  10. Melissa, Have you ever read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh? She watched people and recorded everything in a notebook...then, hilarious things begin to happen. Just for fun, my 20-year-old daughter re-read it the other day.

  11. Yes, Roxanne, I have read that! It's been a long time, though. For awhile as a kid, I really wanted to be a spy or detective...the effects of Harriet plus too many Nancy Drew books! Instead, I became a reporter...which I now miss. I loved observing, recording and reporting...but it's okay, I get to live vicariously through my fictional reporter in my new WIP...:)

  12. Those paper dolls were the BEST! You can't get them anymore. I guess little girls want 'real' toys now, things that do something. But we made up so many good stories and had so much fun with those paper dolls! I wouldn't trade the toybox or the foot high stack of paper dolls for all the fancy stuff of today because we knew how to MAKE fun.

  13. Hi Roxanne....I don't remember ever NOT writing. It was both an outlet and refuge where I could say whatever I wanted to say. I found both reading and writing allowed me to see exotic places in my head and I LOVE exotic places. Growing up in small town Texas, almost anywhere is more exotic...LOL I think being a writer is more an attitude, mindset and passion than a title you list on your tax return under occupation. It's the driving force that makes us write when almost anything else would be easier. M'Lynn

  14. Roxanne, what a fun post. Reading of your past brought up a few memories of my own. Hmmmm, when did I become a writer? I've always loved the written word. In junior high, I would read books as I walked home from school (including a couple of forbidden ones). At thirteen, I checked out a book from the library with a title similar to: How to Write for the 19__ (NOT filling in this blank!) Market (which, by the way, I didn't return until I was 18 and on a day when I wouldn't receive a fine).

    I used (and still do) to weave narration in my mind of events, trying to use active voice. I've journalled for years, always trying to make it my best first (and only) draft possible, if that makes sense.

    I never considered myself a writer. But, over the last 8 months, a story has taken shape in my mind and heart, and I am putting words on paper as many days each week as I can squeeze it in. So, I guess I can actually give myself the title "Writer" now. :) Thanks for encouraging me to think and remember, Roxanne!
    P.S. Sorry this is so long. :)

  15. I remember wanting to write when I was in junior high and the space program was in full swing and our astronauts landed on the moon. I thought what a neat idea to write a book about being a kid growing up during that time. But alas, Homer Hickman beat me too it with Rocket Boys (the movie is October Sky).

    As for reading, I didn't start my love for reading until I was an adult. Literature in school was so dry. Maybe because they forced me to read the classics.

    Then I discovered historical romance. Oh. My. Gosh. I fell in love with it. Then I went on to inspirational romance. Then one day I read a story -- a really badly written story -- put out by a large publishing firm. The author had the girl picking up her reticule (her purse) at every turn and the man's voice got husky everytime he got near her.

    Thats when I decided I could do better. Well I've found out its easier said than done -- but I'm giving it all I got!!

    Great post!

  16. Jennie, I'm glad you decided you could "do better" and return to your love of writing. If you ever get bored with your current wip, you could do a Rocket Boys from a girl's pov.

    Jeanne, Yes, you are a writer! Keep working when you can. It's hard while you're children are little.

    M'Lynn, I think a lot of us can relate to "outlet" and "refuge." I wonder what folks do who don't have people talking in their heads. Where's their outlet?

    Melissa, I'm glad you can relive your reporter days through your character. Getting to become someone else is one of my favorite parts of writing.

  17. Jeannie, I wouldn't change our childhood. And I doubt kids are as creative as we were. I wonder where the next batch of writers will come from.

  18. I remember paper dolls. I entertained my younger sisters with stories using paper dolls, Barbie and her entourage, or anything else that was in the toy box. I loved words as soon as I learned to read. I started writing down my stories as soon as I learned to write.

    For the past ten years, I've considered myself a true writer, but in just the past few weeks I call myself an author. I published some works with an online Christian newspaper. It is the first part of a dream come true!