Maybe I always knew, at heart, that I was going to be a writer. At age five, I spent hours writing and illustrating books. (Art is still a love, and bad spelling still plagues me. Alas, my crayolas did not have spell-check!) And I still distinctly remember my sixth grade teacher stopping me one day, after we had all stood up to read our wriitng projects, and telling me that I had a real knack for telling stories.
But the left brain-right brain tug of war in me pulled me to the visual arts in college. Graphic design is also all about communication, that is to say, combining word and images to create compelling messages. I loved it . . . but I think I slowly realized that I wanted the words to be MY words. I missed storytelling—not for a client, but for the sheer fun of letting my imagination run free.
So one night, I sat down and decided to try to write a real book. A grown-up book! It was hard, and at times it was frightening, but I can be pretty tenacious when I set my mind to something, so I finished it. (Thank goodness I was clueless on all the rules I was breaking, or I never would have had the courage to try.) Then I was lucky enough to sell it to the Signet Regency line, and when I got the thrill of holding that shiny-covered published book, well, that’s when I felt I could truly call myself a writer.
For me, it was when did I first think of myself as a storyteller. That's more or less when I was dragging floppy bunnies around by the ear.
I told my floppy bunny and my collection of battered and chewed dolls stories. I created 'story landscapes' of scarves and blocks and mirrors to be little lakes across the living room floor. (Looking back, my parents were very patient with me.) I told my little sister stories, starting when she was in the cradle. She generally fell asleep. I told the cat stories. He seemed to approve.
But writing fiction kinda went away with Primary School. I wrote from then on, but I wrote nonfiction. I didn't take the idea that I could write fiction at all seriously. I just walked around with all these stories in my head — I thought everyone did this — and never wrote them down.
It wasn't till I retired and had some time on my hands that I gave serious thought to being a fiction writer. Thought about it. Tried. Got published.
I still don't quite believe I'm a fiction writer. Can't take it in. Doesn't seem real somehow. So maybe the answer to the question is — "Time still elapsing."
From Mary Jo:
Call me crass, but I first knew I was a writer when someone gave me money for writing. <G> Like Joanna, I always had stories in my head–didn't everyone? In boring classes, I composed whole sagas in my head. (One had WWII heroism and romance with multiple characters–the seeds of my YA Dark Mirror series were sown early!) But being a real writer? I thought that would be the coolest thing in the world, but it wasn't possible! Not for farm girls from dairy and snow country.
Like Andrea, I was a graphic designer by profession (with degrees in 18th century British Literature and Industrial Design to my credit), and not uncommonly I wrote little advertising blurbettes because I was willing to actually do it, whereas most of the people I worked with would rather be hung by their thumbs than write.
But then I got a computer and the Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use the word processing software, the beauty of which is that when you fix a typo, it stayed fixed. Not long after, I thought that since I'd always had stories in my head, why not try writing one down? Heavily influenced by Georgette Heyer and the Walker hardcover Regencies from the library (Jo Beverley started with them) I started typing.
Then the universe shifted, pieces fell into place, and three months after I started, I was offered at three book Signet Regency contract. Wow, I must be a writer! They weren't offering much money, but it was actual money. I chittered around like a chipmunk squeaking, "I sold a book! I sold a BOOK!!!!"
Some days, I still don't quite believe it. <G>
And Nicola reports:
Like so many of the Wenches I’ve been making up stories from the earliest age. I am an only child so I shared them with my blue teddy and my imaginary friend. I started to write stories down in my teens, I think. My mother almost killed my budding writing career when she asked me, aged 15, to read some of my writing out to my godmother, who was a professional writer. By that time I was writing romantic suspense, heavily influenced by Mary Stewart. My godmother wrote Christian non-fiction and didn’t approve of romance books. I’ll never forget the pursed expression on her face when she read my tentative efforts!
I first considered myself a writer as opposed to someone who enjoyed writing when I gave up my day job to write as a career. I’ve always associated the term writer with being a professional writer although I think this is all down to personal interpretation. For so many years I wrote alongside other things. I studied history then worked as a university administrator for fifteen years. I wrote all the time, on and off, but I was very slow to realise that I actually wanted to be published. I didn’t classify myself as a writer until Mills & Boon offered me my first contract, 12 years after I had started writing my first book. Now I think a writer the coolest thing in the world to be and wouldn’t change it for anything!
I knew I was a writer in stages, coming more and more clearly to me, though I didn't recognize the signs until well along the path. One of the first signs was when I was very little, barely four, and drew in pink, yellow and purple crayons the most beautiful princess I could imagine, with wide pink foufy skirts and long blond tresses, and a castle and a little tiny prince, along with scribbledy words because I couldn't actually write their story. I created this masterpiece on a fresh sheet of blank paper. In the family bible. That's what those blank end-sheets are for, right? Pictures and stories? No?
Other signs popped up in the stories I attempted to write in grade school on lined newsprint paper. C-A-T? Boring! Now I had the tools of letters and words and I had to do what the other kids were doing?? My 2nd grade report card, which my father found a few years ago, had this note from the teacher: "Susie is a great little storyteller." We, er, took that in a positive way. In grade school I staged elaborate plays for my Barbies and Kens, creating castles and homes for them out of shoeboxes and whatever miscellany I could find, including my father's chess pieces. With their setting spread out over much of the basement floor, I put them through continuing dramas that went on for days, with intrigue, villains, breathless escapes and happy reunions. I couldn't wait to get down there each day to see what would happen next to poor Barbie and her Ken.
I always loved stories and wanted desperately to create my own, but I didn't think being a writer was a real job. So I chose art instead. Practical, right? I went to art school, then to graduate school in art history, where I wrote descriptive, accurate, convincing research papers. One day, a professor said about one of my papers: "You're one hell of a writer. This is publishable stuff." The urge to write stories was still lurking in me, and once I had babies and was home for a while, one thing led to another. I got a contract for the first manuscript I wrote – and then I felt like an author. But I had always been a writer.
How do you view "writers"? Must we be published to be writers? Or do we graduate to being authors then? <G>