When I was seven years old I wrote my first “book.” It was part of a Halloween themed writing contest for 1st through 3rd graders at my elementary school (which I hated). It took me days to write but it was some of the most fun I’d ever had.
I submitted it to my teachers and the school had a big assembly that month to announce the winners among several hundred young students. I won first place! It remains still one of my happiest memories.
We got printed and bound and though I thought I’d lost it, I recently stumbled across it while staying briefly at my family’s home in San Diego. Of course, the book isn’t good, but I was seven.
For me now it’s just a good reminder that I should have continued taking on writing projects like this instead of letting schooling get in the way. I loved writing and aspired to being a published fiction author from a very young age. I spent hours doing it in the first few years of school, writing short stories and the beginnings of novels. Then I stopped.
It would take me years to start doing it again in a serious way outside of the classroom. I gave myself every excuse in the world: “I’m too young. I’m tired. I’ll do it later. I’m busy with school. Nobody will read it. Sports come first.” None of that matters.
I wish I had had an Austin Kleon around to tell me that
Building a body of work (or a life) is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.
In the end, all of you have are the things you did do, like this short book I wrote when I was 7, and the things you didn’t do, like all the writing I planned for the next 14 years or so but seldom started.
I would give anything to have a portfolio of sloppy kid work from growing up. It would be fun to look back through it and see my development as a writer. And maybe through all the mess I would have hit upon something actually worth publishing.
Here’s my first one, James, Jeff, and the Ballistic Witch…
My first experience with Clip Art was something magical. I thought it was the most incredible thing in the world. Why humanoid frogs? That is something I’m still trying to understand…
The name “James” came from James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), who was for me at the time the quintessential hero. Jeff, if I recall correctly, was just a name I had always wanted for myself, though I personally believed I was James in the story.
Sabrina was a lazy name choice inspired by Sabrina: The Teenage Witch. And if James was the name for my ideal hero, Tommy was at the time the name I most associated with “punchable” and the perfect dopey sidekick for the evil witch. I thought Henry was a cute name for a militant pumpkin. I don’t know why.
Looking back, there’s something morbid about feeding animated pumpkins some pumpkin seed soup…
I was proud I could spell the word “microscopic” when I was seven years old and had to find a way to demonstrate how “smart” I was, so I included it.
No action-adventure is complete without duping a pair of gullible guards. And I’m amused at my seven year old self for putting the bad guys in jail. It would only be a few years before I’d embrace a more “shoot-em-up” style where all the bad guys are easily killed by the hero.
Now I have no regrets about where I’m at in my life. I get paid to write and have thousands of viewers on this blog every week. I think I could have had it earlier though and I wouldn’t be playing catch-up like I sometimes feel I am.
If you’re a young aspiring writer, take a lesson from me and start writing now and don’t stop. It will take you years to even begin to master the craft whether you start now or start later.
I know this because I had to go through it and the extent to which I had been writing all my life (still more than most) made it all the easier.
As bestselling author Mark Manson says:
Until you’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, you have no clue what you will enjoy writing about or what other people will enjoy reading from you…
It takes a lot of writing and experimentation for each person to find their own individual style and voice, what they care about, what others care about, and so on. This is a natural process.
Read good fiction books and study the style, the integration of plot and theme, and take notes of plot devices you might want to steal for yourself. Read nonfiction books, especially history, as it will fill your mind with stories and ideas that you can use for your own work. Start a blog and write daily.
And if you’re a parent or a teacher, do not let your desire to see your kid do well in school hamstring their ability to do well in life. I let my schooling get in the way of my writing and only later did I realize that a kid who can write is worth 10 kids who can pass a test.