Some months ago I asked my Facebook fans to suggest ideas for future blogs. What did they want to know that I could possibly tell them? I received wonderful ideas, and today I’m using one from Denise who said: “I’m interested in how you started out, all the details of how you became a writer.” Since it’s not that often we’re asked to recount our personal history, I’m going to jump right in and savor the opportunity.
First of all, forget “I always knew I wanted to write.” Also toss out “I prepared myself from the moment I read my first Bobbsey Twins thriller.” And while you’re tossing, get rid of, “I majored in Russian literature with an emphasis on the pre-prison fiction of Dostoevsky.” I didn’t. I showed promise as a pianist early in life, and since that happened to run in my mother’s family, I was immediately destined to become, if not a concert pianist, a teacher–or later, after my first horrifying music education class, a music therapist. I accompanied choirs all through secondary school, performed in a show choir called Baker’s Dozen, and won a small piano scholarship to Florida State University, with its truly excellent school of music. My path was set.
Only, it wasn’t. Because while I did well in classes, I saw the musical score on the wall right away. I was surrounded by gifted students who really loved every part of what we were studying. They practiced their instruments for hours. They adored performing. I could sightread like a whiz and accompany with enthusiasm, but those hours in a practice room bored me silly. If I could play it once, why bother playing it twice, not to mention a million times?
In my sophomore year the truth caught up with me, as it too often does. In order to continue, I really had to practice, and I really had to forget all those other classes outside the School of Music that I would never have time to take. Classes in history, psychology, sociology, humanities. . . I changed majors without looking back, and settled on that most saleable of degrees, American Studies. Later, as a young mom fascinated by families, children, and marriage, I went on to get my Masters degree in yet another “you majored in what?” degree in Family Development.
Have you noticed I have yet to mention “English, writing, composition, literature?” No mention, no background. My high school English and composition classes were so excellent that I tested out of the college versions and filled my communication credits by taking French, a language for which I had no aptitude. Plus, to add insult to injury, the boyfriend who spoke it so beautifully disappeared into the land of past loves and never knew I was striving to understand him better. I took, in total, one American literature class and one class on writing the short story, just for fun. I missed that clue.
Clearly, I was not training to write fiction. Only, as it turned out, I was. And that’s part two of this story, to be completed on Thursday. But while I’m here right now? Exactly what did I learn from this part of my saga? Well, actually quite a lot. First of all, that just because you do something well, you don’t have to do it forever, and you don’t have to do it professionally. Second, that we, as a society, are too quick to slot our young people into jobs/professions they may never enjoy. And third, that becoming a writer doesn’t hinge on reading and understanding the complete works of James Joyce, nor does it demand an academic understanding of the difference between a dangling participle and participial phrases serving as absolute clauses.
Becoming a writer is all about falling in love.