On being a writing kid

Speaking to writing teachers last weekend got me to thinking about growing up as a writing sort of kid. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember; I’ve written them down for as long as I knew how to do so. My earliest poems date back to second grade; and I started keeping a regular writing journal in junior high.

I really do think being able to tell myself stories is one of the main things that allowed me to cope with being a kid, and to grow up into a sane adult. So for the UA lunch, I came up with a list of ways in which writing did this–gifts writing gave me. I didn’t use all of them in my brief talk, so I thought I’d list them here:

  • The sense that I had things worth saying — and the sense that other people wanted to hear what I said.
  • A place to escape to — if I was having an awful day, I’d pretend–sometimes on paper, sometimes just in my own head–to be a character in a story instead. Often, that was enough to get me through
  • A sense of power. One of the hardest things about being a kid is that you have so little power. But as a writer, you can move worlds; you can decide what happens next.
  • A sense that I could make my life work out how I wanted it to. Once you see how much power you have when writing stories, you start believing you have a little bit of that power outside of stories, too.
  • An invisible listener. No adult is patient enough to listen to their child every moment of every day, but I quickly realized pen and paper would be there for me 24/7, and so I kept journals as well as writing stories.
  • Independence; the ability to be alone with myself. Writing is all about living happily in the place of your own thoughts and ideas.
  • Friends; I really was pretty much alone, as a kid, until I began meeting other kids who also liked to write. Telling stories together gave us common ground.
  • The knowledge that the world wouldn’t end if I was unhappy sometimes. All stories had their rough parts, after all, on the way to their happy endings; I realized I could get through those rough parts, just like the characters I wrote about.
  • A connection to my younger self that’s stayed with me into adulthood. Because if you’re writing for kids, you don’t get to forget what it felt like to be 5, or 10, or 15. You have to stay in touch with your inner child — and for me, that’s been a really good thing.

If you’re a writer–professionally, as a hobby, in your own head–how has telling stories affected your life?

I also realized, coming up with this list, just how much the encouragement of adults and teachers around me actually meant, growing up. I was incredibly lucky; no adult in my life ever told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t write, though some of them did gently suggest I cultivate other means of making a living as well. Only now do I appreciate what a tremendous gift that encouragement was.

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