This month, the Sweet Sixteens are talking about a question that really made me think. A question that took me back to the fourth grade, when I couldn’t hold a pencil right and made multiple trips up to my teacher’s desk to ask for more paper to write my stories on. I still remember the excitement of getting a fresh page and the joy I felt filling it with words.
The question? How and why I started writing.
The truth is, I didn’t know how I was supposed to be writing back then, or what constituted good writing. I just knew that I loved doing it. And that love is what started it all.
I filled those pages with stories about monsters and dragons and horses, and several retellings of the Little Red Robin Hood story. I wrote freely and quickly, not caring about things like voice or tense or character development, not knowing what was going to happen from page to page. I crossed things out when I decided they didn’t fit and left big gaps and question marks in the narrative. I renamed characters at will. And I didn’t know it yet, but I was beginning to have a serious thing for plot twists.
Fast-forward to now, when I’m a year away from becoming a debut author. A lot has changed. A lot more thought goes into anything I write. Under every new idea, there are numerous point-form notes and bullet points and unanswered questions. I think about things like finding a killer hook and introducing conflict. I wonder if people will want to spend a whole book with my main character. I consider whether my ideas are worth pursuing, if they are saleable in today’s market.
Maybe the biggest thing that has changed is that I go through phases where I find my inner editor to be almost crippling, a major impediment to progress. During these times, I’ll write something and erase it almost immediately because I have deemed it as not good enough already. During these times, I convince myself I have writer’s block and find reasons to avoid my story altogether. During these times, things like laundry and shoveling snow start to look appealing.
But looking back at my old stories—riddled with typos and gaping plot holes and illegible handwriting—I think maybe I could take some cues from my fourth-grade self. Maybe there’s something to learn from that little girl who didn’t care what anyone else thought about her stories, if people wanted to read them or not. She liked them—she believed in them—and that was enough for her.
Maybe part of my problem now is that I think too much and don’t trust my instinct enough.
I wrote FIRSTS very quickly—too quickly to have room for self-doubt to creep in. I wrote FIRSTS much like the fourth-grade me wrote her stories: fast and furious, with words spilling from my fingertips and somehow fitting into place. But since then, I have encountered bumps in the road with my other WIPs. Run-ins with my inner editor, who tells me to go back and fix what I have instead of moving forward. False starts and massive plot overhauls. It’s not easy to just write without a filter. But in 2015, this is exactly what I’m trying to do.
Because when it comes down to it, it’s so much more fun that way. And that’s the biggest lesson I can take away from my fourth-grade self. That writing is supposed to be fun, above all else. Frustrating and stressful and maddening at times, but also the best feeling in the world.
And while a lot has changed since I started writing, some things haven’t. I still have a love affair with plot twists. I still don’t know what happens from page to page sometimes, and I think that not knowing can be the best part.
Oh, and I never did learn to hold a pencil right.