The very first thing I remember ever writing was a poem in first grade.
Please be sweet
Please be mine
Please be my valentine
The girl across the street suggested it, actually. We brainstormed poems for the V-day project while at the bus stop. She was two years older. I thought about it all day, agreed on the one above, then won a class award for it and my picture and name were in the paper, along with the poem. The clipping still hangs in my parents’ room.
Needless to say, I focused on more original work from there.
In fourth grade, my class read James and the Giant Peach. As a writing exercise, we were asked to put our own spin on it. I don’t remember the details of mine, but it involved a strawberry. Again, not super original thought, but what is, anyway 😉
In fifth grade, that’s where things started to take off for me creatively. I don’t remember the exact assignment, but what was produced was a short story in what can only be described as the fantasy genre. I put it together in a three-ring binder, complete with illustrations. A girl and her friends were sucked into a jukebox at a pizza shop and transported in to some sort of music world. Evil music notes that played disco were the villains.
In seventh grade, I had a REALLY cool english teacher. I think I’m even friends with him on Facebook now. He was stereotypically awesome. Fresh-faced, right out of school, had an acoustic guitar he was known to bring in from time to time, and gave us a TON of free reading and writing time in his class. I read my first historical fiction novel, Libby, while in his class. It was a novel about the wife of General Custer. It was the first book to make me cry.
Anyway, we had to write a short story in that class. Again, the details are fuzzy, but a girl wins the lottery through a scratch ticket on her birthday, goes on wild adventures, then wakes up to find it was just a dream. The book ends with her going downstairs, opening up a card with a lotto ticket in it, her scratching it and the last words of the book were Cherry, cherry …
Cliffhanger. My first one. I loved it. The power, the muah-ha-ha of it all. And, there was no sequel 😉
After that, I really dug into poetry. I was a natural at it. To my musically inclined mind, poetry made sense, even if it didn’t rhyme. Rhythms were easy for me to spot and create, and the pure depth and deliciousness of the English language was really opening up to me at that time, so I experimented with words the way other artists manipulate paints, colors, and mediums.
In eighth grade we were studying alliteration. I wrote a poem about my mom and her sewing, which was then submitted by her and published in their local quilt guild’s newsletter. I was in print! For original work this time!
For the next several years, I focused on poetry. I didn’t do much writing of a creative nature in high school; it was mainly book reports and essays at that point, but I kept journals of poetry, and had magnetic poetry in my locker at school. My friends found all sorts of creativity through that. (The boys made it inappropriate really quickly, but, whatever. High schoolers, huh?) At this point, I dreamt of publishing poetry. It came easily to me. I could see two words next to each other and birth an entire poem, with or without the two original words. Catching a glimmer of light bouncing off rims on a car, or hearing the shrieking laughter of a child was all I needed to be off and running in my mind. Poetry gave me a voice for dark moments, and allowed me to romanticize in the most syrupy of ways.
I didn’t write another short story until my sophomore year in college, and what I wouldn’t give to find that story either in copy kicking around my house or my parents’, or on a disk somewhere. I loved it. Lana was the main character, and the story was told in alternating points of view between her and the main male. They were musicians playing in their university’s orchestra. She got into drugs, he tried to save her, she died at the end in a run-down apartment. He collected her belongings at the end of it all. I’d killed my first character–and the main one at that. Talk about power.
Still, it would be many, many years before I wrote a story again. I kept up with the poetry–filling journals upon journals. I didn’t write characters again until I broke my leg in April 2012 and was going out of my mind with boredom. I’d watched some TV, read a TON, and wrote some poetry. I wanted to write more. A longer project. So, I started one. I initially outlined a paranormal romance of a fallen angel, but quickly changed gears and started work on what would become Ten Days of Perfect. I stumbled face-first into a supportive community of independent authors and their readers and the rest, well, it’s not quite history since I’m still living in it, but it IS amazing.
And, if you look closely, you’ll see all the threads of everything I’ve written since I was seven wrapped up in my work today: from the first sweet-tooth poem to the offing of my main character, and all the music, lyricism, and cliff hangers in between, everything I’ve ever written has made me the writer I am today. Good, not so good, and otherwise.
I still haven’t published any poetry to sell, because it’s so intensely personal I can barely breathe when I think about it, but there is at least one poem kicking around this blog somewhere–I’ll let you find it if you need to.
All this to say–nurture your art. Whether it takes one or thirty or fifty years, don’t despise the days of small beginnings and stick figure drawings and three-lined rhyming poems. Take risks of living in a strawberry, traveling to different worlds where music notes attack, and dare to leave readers dangling on the edge of a cliff. Because life isn’t tied up in a neat bow. All of those things are seeds. Seeds that lovers of art will harvest for years beyond yours.