ESSENCE Countdown: The Beginning of the Beginning

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Pop quiz for you writers: have you always known this is what you wanted to do? Did you ever turn away from writing--cave into society's pressures and pursue "normal" hobbies instead?

Like I said in my last "Countdown to ESSENCE" post, I decided I was going to become an author when I was five years old. I couldn't even read then, so I stole one of my dad's massive, three-inch binders and crammed it with haphazardly drawn stories. The stories I drew were complicated, yet I insisted on reciting them verbatim to anyone and everyone who would listen.

My "picture stories" graduated into real-life stories when I was in third grade. I can still remember my dad's ancient work computer, with its complicated WordPerfect software and its inability to save files with names that made any kind of logical sense. That computer was magical to me, and the stories I cranked out made me feel more alive than anything I'd ever done before.

I continued writing through middle school, and I exchanged my go-to animal stories for ridiculously cliche, epic fantasies. But then I began to notice something. The other kids around me--with the exception of my childhood best friend Allen Walker--WEREN'T writing ridiculously cliche, epic fantasies. They weren't writing at all, and the fact that I was made me feel... well... weird.

Nerdy. Awkward. Not normal at all.

I began to hide my writing. I wouldn't even let my (incredibly supportive) parents read my work anymore. Instead, I yanked the pages off the printer the second they printed, and I squirreled them away in notebooks and hid them under my bed like I was doing something wrong.

I would downplay how much my stories meant to me, and I stopped writing altogether my freshman year of high school. Instead, I dove into sports and other "socially acceptable" pursuits, and the remnants of my writing only survived in homework assignments and the thick journals I filled with news about my friends and the boys who were finally starting to notice me, too.

(Now, don't get me wrong. I dug the sports. I was on the soccer team, the swim team, the cross-country team and the track team, and the athletic world was--and still is--my jam in some respects. I just find it sad that I managed to bury my very biggest passion because I didn't know how others would feel about it.)

It wasn't until after I'd graduated college that I returned to my roots and decided to actively pursue my childhood dream of becoming an author again. Even then, I kept this pursuit on the down-low, and I didn't even tell most of my closest friends until I'd already secured a literary agent.

Why? People weren't weirded out when they heard I wanted to be an author like I expected. Instead, they were excited--stoked for me, even--and their instant acceptance of something I had so carefully hidden made me realize what an idiot I'd been for ever hiding it in the first place.

What was I afraid of? Being judged? Or was it failure? Did I feel like I needed an agent's stamp of approval before I had the right to claim I was a writer?

Whatever the reason, it was a dumb one. I should have had faith in my identity as a writer from the beginning--literary agent or not--and I should have written some incredible stories during those formative high school and college years. I will never know what I could have come up with back then, and my heart is heavy at the realization that those words are lost forever.

(Hear that, high school and college readers?? Stop reading this, and start writing right now. There will never be a better time to begin!!)

How about you? Did you ever downplay your love of writing--or were you strong enough to resist the peer pressure of "normalcy" during your adolescence? If you hid it, what made you finally decide to own it? And what advice would you give aspiring young writers to help them overcome their writing insecurities?