Monday, February 10, 2014

All the News That’s Fit to Imagine

"What was the first moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?"

This is one of the questions writers get most often and it’s fun to hear the answers. I wonder, though, how many are apocryphal. I mean, how many four-year olds think about the process and think of it as FUN? It’s not like ballet or space walking or basketball. There’s not much to see, nothing glorious in action, no applause, no costumes. In fact, if we had a clue about the realities of being writers, we might run screaming, or at least retreat to law school or reality show stardom.

But something happens to a blessed number of kids, and it’s real. Some of us are writing plays, stories, whole newspapers (me), poems, graphic novels – also called comic books – by the age of seven or eight. And the passion sticks with us. By high school, we’re the student paper, yearbook, and drama club crews. We’re winning essay contests and scholarships, and writing letters to the editors about social issues. We’re readers, the ones who take out the maximum number of books every week from the library, who weep reading Louisa May Alcott, who read every ad in the subway car. We can’t help it. We’ve been hooked by the power of the word and we crave it.

The earliest I recall consciously wishing to write was when reading, probably for the fourth or fifth times, Mary Poppins and Stuart Little. The characters and the warm and ultimately protective universe in which they lived was one I wanted to create myself. That must have been when I was six or seven. I know that I was publishing a newspaper (multiples made with carbon paper, fully laid out and illustrated) when I was eight. Rather interesting considering my parents were drinking heavily by then and any newspaper reporting truthfully on our family life would have included reports of yelling and plate throwing. I think the “Wolff Weekly” reported on life as I wanted it to be, as it was in the Banks’ and the Little’s households.  

When I was in high school, it was generally thought by other kids that boys (it was always boys then) who wrote about their sports teams for the school paper were would-be athletes who weren’t good enough to play varsity. Girls who worked on the paper were never going to be popular enough to have lots of dates, so this kind of geeky activity was a consolation prize. Boy, were they wrong! We were the lucky ones who wielded the power to shape the news, to influence others, to give or withhold praise and glory…well, maybe it went to our heads a bit.

Later, I became a reporter and magazine writer, then went into college communications and marketing, speechwriting, and fundraising (creative writing). I didn’t take up fiction (acknowledged creative writing) until late in my career. But I’ve always been on the path I stepped onto with the first issue of the “Wolff Weekly.”



Robin Spano said...

LOL at your high school experience. I loved working on the school paper, but I was so clueless that I didn't realize it was geeky at all! Or powerful.

Meredith Cole said...

We "published" our own creative writing journal when I was in grade school (I still remember the carbon copies too!). It was such a thrill to see my essays/stories and poems "in print." I guess we all got addicted to that feeling, Susan...

Susan C Shea said...

See? Robin and Meredith, we were all bitten by the bug early!