I have been asked on several occasions how I knew I wanted to write. I think every writers’ realization that they seem to have words stuck in their throat at all times stems from a different catalyst. As for me, I think it had to have started with movies. I have always been an avid film-lover, something passed down to me from my mother and her mother. From a very early age, fiction became a huge part of my life.
One of my first memories is when my mom rented a VHS tape of John Carpenter’s The Thing for me to watch (Mom was pretty liberal with letting me watch R-rated films as long as there was no nudity; it’s debatable whether this explains my overall fucked-up aesthetic and love for all things horror or not). I was three years old, and yet I retained vivid memories of the ghastly imagery in the film, which remains my all-time favorite horror. I side-eyed Siberian Huskies with distrust for years. Even though I spent the next decade not remembering the title of the film, I remembered that it scared the ever-loving hell out of me. I remembered, and will always strive to duplicate, the exhilaration of being so affected by fiction.
When I played outside with my friends, the usual game of choice was make-believe. I often found myself dictating the scenario, the characters and the plot developments as my friends shrugged and acted it all out. Sure, they were plots I’d stolen from The X-Files or Tales From the Crypt, but always with my own odd embellishments. At night when I couldn’t sleep, I’d close my eyes and direct my own scenes and pieces in movies that didn’t exist. I would start with a conflict and carry the story out as far as I could before finally falling asleep. The next night I would either start the same scene over, fine-tuning the details or fixating on one looped moment, or I might pick up where I left off. Then when that scene lost its flavor, I’d devise a new one.
None of this was ever written down, but sometimes I daydreamed the same scenes during the school day.
It wasn’t until I was in the fifth grade that I actually started to write. I had a few catalysts to this. The first was a Halloween party with my best childhood friends, spooking each other with scary stories all night. When we started to run out of the ones we heard, I made one up from scratch, pulling from old nightmares and images I couldn’t shake. At the end, one of my friends told me I should write scary stories for a living. It had never occurred to me before, but I was certainly tempted. The second catalyst came in a much more casual manner: watching As Good as it Gets with my mom and noticing how Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin, only seemed to be at peace when he was writing. He was like someone stuck under water who didn’t get his first gasp of oxygen until he was sitting in front of the computer screen.
The next day, I tried my hand at it. In the weeks that followed, I wrote an atrociously bad murder-mystery. It was 52 pages long. And though it was so bad that I praise the fact no floppy-disked copies survived my 20’s, it was a start. After I finished it, I wrote another. And another.
Before I was 18, I wrote seven full narratives. Three were novella-length. One was a novel-length horror. In the other three, I branched away from my horror roots and wrote what may have passed for literary fiction. The last two—one about a falsely accused man on death row making amends with his family, the other about a father and Vietnam-POW returning home after his family believed he was dead—are projects that I can look back on with pride. They may not have been publishable by anyone’s standards, but for a teenager, they were damn good. And, most importantly, they made me feel like I had a place in the world, like I had a voice for the first time. They made me feel more curious about the world and the people in it, and with that curiosity I became dedicated to forging a better understanding of why we are the way we are.
By the time I wrote my first literary fiction-genre work, I knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This is one of the strongest purposes for my existence. I’m sure other writers know that feeling: that you were put on this planet to tell stories, to humbly weave your poetry, to express the human experience however we can.
Whether you are a full-time writer, a hobbyist/enthusiast who squeezes in pages between shifts or classes or while the kids are taking a nap, or a part-timer like me who is desperately juggling a demanding day-job with a wholehearted passion, your perspective on the world is equally valuable. Your potential is just as extraordinary. And the story of how you figured out that “writer” is a monumental part of your identity is just as valid because it brought you here, to a loving community of like-minded weirdos. Welcome!