Becoming a Writer

Below is an essay I have written to participate in a writing contest: You Are a Writer held by Positive Writer. The question to be answered is “What led you to becoming a writer?” This is my story.

When I was five my parents moved our family across the world from West Virginia to Tanzania (on the eastern coast of Africa just under the horn). While this was a wonderful way to grow up, it wasn’t one filled with a lot of ready made entertainment. We didn’t have TV, we didn’t have shopping malls, we didn’t have access to very many movies. But we had books. Lots of books. My mom used to read aloud to us as we sat around the fire on cold rainy nights. My dad brought us new books as gifts when he had to travel. Our days were filled with adventures outside, our evenings were filled with adventures in the pages of our books. I mention this, because I believe that good writers are often avid readers to begin with.

I think I was in high school before this love for the written word developed into a love for writing. I was at this time at boarding school in Kenya. One of our extra circular activities was a “coffee house” (in an auditorium where no coffee was served) in which students were given the opportunity to express themselves artistically to an audience of their peers. Most people sang or played an instrument. I began to read bits of poetry I had written, and was adept enough to have them start requesting me for future performances.

I remember a couple of class assignments from those years that excited me in the way they challenged my creativity. While studying Hamlet we were required to write a sonnet with fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Not being all that academic, the anticipation I had in writing that sonnet was a new experience. I might have imagined the adulations of my teacher much like Ralphie from A Christmas Story did about his essay, except my teacher was Miss Winterberg, the Ice Queen. I don’t remember what I made on the assignment, but I remember the feeling of great accomplishment I had from creating something so Shakespearean. It was exhilarating!

The other assignment that sticks out in my mind was a persuasive essay on any topic we chose. I don’t know what possessed me, but I wrote the entire essay on the importance of changing your underwear every day. It was filled with nuances and innuendo, while never really getting gross or inappropriate. It was quite entertaining to write, and while I knew I was taking a risk handing it in for an assignment, I also knew in my gut that it was well written and imaginative. It helped that my teacher was now Miss Thompson,  who in my estimation was much less inclined to off my head. Again, I don’t remember the grade, but I do remember the note saying that while it was creative I had pushed the envelope about as far as I should dare.

I think the key to both these events was the rush I got from the creative process. I loved the sense of having formed something original that was a positive addition to the world. I have a very creative family. Among us are artists and singers and musicians. I sometimes felt as if I had nothing to offer in comparison to very gifted older siblings. In writing, I found my medium of expression. I began to dream of some day writing a book.

And then I grew up. As a wife and a mother, there were years in which I wrote nothing more creative than a grocery list. I home schooled my children, but when it came to teaching them to love reading and writing I felt as if I had failed them miserably. I finally resorted to paying other people to teach them these subjects in high school.

Then one day through a Sunday School lesson about church history I experienced that long lost feeling of an idea that must be expressed in writing. When I finished the rough draft, my gut began to speak to me again, “This is good…” I shared it with my husband who was quite impressed. He began to mark it with his pen and show me places that needed more explanation. And I shrank a little inside. What was he doing with my creation?! But his critiques were spot on, and when I applied the changes, my gut voice got louder, “It’s Good!” This experience kindled the fire in me to write again, but the discipline was not there. I kept putting off the process until something would start to eat at me to be written.

Then my husband had his stroke. And as I began to read what I could find to help me help him get better, I was struck with two realizations. 1) People who write books about successful rehab are people who have been very successful with rehab (that wasn’t us), and 2) maybe they weren’t really telling the whole story.  At that point I decided that someone needs to write a book about the people who aren’t all that motivated and raring to get better. Someone needs to reach out to their spouses and caregivers and let them know they are not alone! And maybe that someone needs to be me.

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15 Responses to Becoming a Writer

  1. That was very compelling! I vote for you!!!

  2. christina says:

    This helped me know you better, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (I must say the persuasive essay surprised me from you, but it was no doubt funny.) My husband says he doesn’t remember being read to except for Curious George and Where the Wild Things Are. I wonder if his experience was so different because of the age gap or if those times simply didn’t have enough emotional impact to stick in his memory, since he loathed reading until college and beyond. Perhaps the prompt of your remembrance will draw something out.

    100% agreed that most writers start as readers. Absolutely. Ann Voskamp even has written that when she has writer’s block, it’s usually because she’s not reading.

    Best wishes on the contest! This is the kind of essay that helps a girl process her experiences, regardless of the outcome. Good for you for taking it on!!!! (And I can completely see your point about stroke rehab books. No doubt you could fill a gap in the literature. This blog is a good place to start, isn’t it?)

    Hugs to you, sis! I still haven’t asked about your trip, but I was praying.

    • I do plan to write about my trip…eventually. It was great in every way. You can remind Big Al that I to his day have parts of “Never Tease A Weasel” memorized because of him. I do imagine the changes I our lives by the time he came along cut down on the reading to him. For one, he went to school, instead of home schooling. And he was a very busy kid.

  3. Rachel says:

    I love this. It rings so true. I’m so glad I grew up in Africa with lots of quiet and books and free time too. I’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot of writers who are 3rd culture kids – MKs and army brats. Maybe in part because they didn’t have as much TV and in part because they had more adventures.

    And gotta love Ms. Winterberg. I don’t think she ever had anything nice to say about work I turned in, but I did learn in her class. I still know all the Greek and Latin roots, thanks to her.

    • Mrs. Winterberg once read a “short answer” of mine off a test (omitting my name) as an example of how NOT to write a short answer. I learned from that too, but it was embarrassing. I don’t recall learning Greek or Latin roots in her class. Did you ever notice all her hand knitted sweaters? I think she is in part responsible for my attachment to cardigans. I was fascinated by all the different colors and stitches.

  4. And the world was glad that you decided to write more! Or at least I am! oh. And I would loved to have been a fly on the wall for the first reading of your “underwear” paper!

  5. Powerful story, and so beautifully written. I love Tanzania, what was it like growing up in the beautiful land? If only I could live there.

  6. Becky Seevers says:

    This confirms my theory that children do not write well until they read well and have enough life experience to have something to say. I agonize at work as I see administrators force teachers to force kindergarten children to write a complete sentence! Oh, deliver me! Cant’ we just love them and teach them to love to read before we expect to launch them into the world of writing??? Good story, Deanna.

    • I’m not sure it confirms your story, but it does support it. A love for reading certainly does help with the ability to write, if for no other reason than you brain learns what “sounds” right. I never did too well separating the mechanics from the actual writing (sentence diagramming, identifying an adjective), but I could tell what sounded right because of my relationship with books. I have always encouraged home schoolers not to worry about anything else until their children are competent readers. It is the key to learning.

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