I was browsing through my list of blog post ideas and suggestions today and came across one that suggested writing about the first piece you ever wrote. I find this idea very interesting partially because I have trouble defining what that first piece was. Is it my first novel-length work? The first story I wrote after I knew I wanted to be an author one day? The first story I ever wrote down? Or is it the first story I ever told?
Obviously those are all different things for me, which is why I have fun thinking through this question. We’ll go backward chronologically and maybe you can help me decide which one is truly my first piece.
My first novel-length work was written between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was sixteen. I spent a lot of time talking through it with my best friend at the time and all the characters were based on friends in my role playing group. They weren’t very faithfully based, and the characters all changed and grew over the writing of the novel, but they were supposed to be based on my friends at any rate. This was the creation of Alimonhal, which I’ve talked about on the blog before.
That first novel was a lot of other firsts for me. It was the first time I tried to do extensive world building that I actually wrote down (there were maps and files full of explanations and everything). It was the first time I felt confident enough in my personal (ie not done specifically for school) writing that I showed it to a teacher. It was the first “public” reading I even did when during my senior year my creative writing (and AP English) teacher asked me to read the first chapter to the creative writing class as an example of a good hook for the reader. (Yes, I’m still super proud of that praise.) It was the first novel I ever entered into a contest (a national contest for high school writers that I did not win). This was a very important part of my writing journey, but I don’t think I’d call it my first piece.
The first thing I wrote after I realized I wanted to be an author was a school assignment. And it might be more correct to say that this was the piece I wrote that made me realize I wanted to be a writer. The assignment was to take a picture the instructor put up on the overhead (yes, I’m old enough to remember overhead projectors in schools) and write a story about it. It was a picture of a big, leafy, tree. It made me think of tree climbing and treehouses, so I wrote a story about sisters (I think they might have been triplets?) who stayed too long in their tree house and got stuck when a pack of wolves showed up at the base of the tree. Their parents came and rescued them of course and there was a happy ending. I was in sixth grade. I don’t know what about that made me realize I wanted to tell stories my whole life, but that was the moment when the goal of being an author really coalesced for me. I wish I still had this somewhere. I know I typed it up, and at some point I probably had it backed up, but it’s likely on a three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk, and I know I don’t have a drive that can read those anymore, let alone a program that would recognize the file.
The first story I ever wrote down was probably also a school assignment. I don’t actually remember most of the school assigned stories I’ve written, but I know there are some illustrated stories from my early elementary school days. My mother still has them in a box somewhere. If I ever find them, I might actually post them just to show that from small beginnings we can come so very far.
Whichever of those counts as my first piece, none of them are my first story. I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. One of the very first was probably the one about the family of mice that lived in my bellybutton. Yes, I know how weird that sounds, and in my defense, I was about three or four at the time. Apparently, I was very concerned with drying my bellybutton after baths, and that’s the story I told my mother to explain why. This is probably proof that I’ve always been this weird, but I’m proud of the weirdness now, so I’m okay with that.
My storytelling didn’t stop there. I acted out stories with my stuffed animals and then with Barbies and various other figures. Later on, this turned into telling stories with my friends. We’d create elaborate situations for our toys and we’d act out how they resolved them. Sometimes the characters were just people (Barbie and friends), sometimes not. There was a long stretch when everyone was an animal. First it was plush dogs from 101 Dalmatians, then it was plastic figures from Aladdin and later The Lion King. (Disney is a key feature in the childhood of most children who grew up in the US during the 1980s and 1990s.)
As I grew older and the figures and toys became less important, I would talk through my stories out loud. I’d have whole conversations (yes, I talked to myself a lot as a kid). I’d imagine situations for my characters and they’d talk about them and experience them and talk some more. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to write any of my stories down until that assignment in sixth grade. And I think this has helped me as an author. I have a great memory for characters and plots, developed from years of keeping them all in my head. I also to this day talk through my dialog out loud. I thing it greatly improves my dialog and makes it sound more realistic and less stilted. Sometimes I’ll talk through a conversation two characters will be having five or twelve times before I ever write it down.
Whatever my first piece was, I’m glad that I wrote it and I’m glad that people encouraged me to keep writing more. I believe that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone should have the space to tell it.
(The image on this post was created from stock photos.)