Updated: Oct 8, 2018
"Mr. Allen played the guitar and said he had published articles and had a friend who was eaten by an alligator and immediately he was my hero. I want to be published I told him."
I started writing when I was five.
To be more specific, I started copying my childrens books--now referred to as “plagiarism”--onto folded sheets of construction paper and calling them books. My first masterpiece was this inspirational, heart-wrenching tale of a young, scared animal separated forever from his mother. You may know this more familiarly as “Bambi.” I was supremely proud of my creation, although I recognized even from that age that illustrating would not be one of my strongest attributes. But still I forged on.
Around this same time, I started keeping a journal. A daily habit I remain loyal to, even more so now as an adult. I still have this first diary--a tiny red Mead spiral-bound notebook (not to be confused with M-E-A-D-E, although I always carved a dark E next to the brand name on each of my notebooks). It dates all the way back to kindergarten and includes large, misspelled words and illustrations (again, not the best). There’s a crayoned illustration of me and Santa hugging, and my friend Liz crossing her arms and pouting because she never believed in him and I did.
In early elementary school, I started a holiday book series, known as the Danielle Steele Mysteries (who in my life was reading Danielle Steel books back then?). The hits included titles like “Danielle Steel and the Missing Easter Bunny.” You get the idea. I typed them up on my dad’s word processor--the bulky OG kind with a black screen and a blinking green cursor. He would help me print out copies, the sheets connected with a perforated strip, and I would illustrate and pass them out--or more likely try to sell--to my relatives at our holiday parties. I was always looking to make a buck as a kid.
Back then, I never stopped to think: would anyone like this story? (Because, duh.) Or has this already been done before? (Answer: yes. Danielle Steel, I’m sorry). As a kid, I didn’t worry about being judged for my creative work, which is such a hard feat to overcome as an adult.
In fifth grade, I started writing my first novel. I had a 25-year-old teacher from England who arrived like an angel as a permanent sub half-way through the school year. Mr. Allen played the guitar and said he had published articles and had a friend who was eaten by an alligator and immediately he was my hero. I want to be published I told him. You absolutely can he told me. Start writing. And so I did.
I started my first novel that year (thirty or so pages written out on yellow-lined paper that I may or may not still feel proud of). And when we were studying dumb terrariums during a science lesson, I told Mr. Allen I’d rather be working on my novel. And he said go ahead. I stared at him, or more specifically, the vein that always throbbed across his forehead. No adult had ever given me permission to shirk my immediate educational responsibilities because writing, in fact, was more important and worthy of my time and attention.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d still call myself a writer if my fifth grade substitute teacher hadn’t given me the supremely generous permission to just write.
Just as Mr. Allen did for me I’ve dedicated myself to doing the same for my writing students and others. To give them the permission and the time to write. And I hereby officially grant you permission to be a writer. Or whatever it is you love and deem worthy of your time. It is worth shirking your responsibilities, even if just for a while, a timed while, if writing is important to you. It was for me then, and still is today, and yet sometimes the hardest thing is to give myself permission to just write when I have “real work” to do that “makes money” and “pays my bills.” But, still… I write.