I find the question I most get as a writer is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” but “What does the M stand for?” And then, after that one, they ask, “When did you start writing?”
And that’s a difficult thing to answer. (The M thing is answered on my FAQ page linked at the top of the blog, btw.) Because I’ve been a writer a long time, but I get the sense that people want to know something more specific but aren’t sure how to ask.
This morning, for instance, my kids asked me when I learned to write. I told them, “I learned to read and write when I was three.” This is true. But I wasn’t, at age three, thinking of becoming a writer. Even when at age six or seven I was making a neighborhood “magazine” for other kids, I hadn’t considered writing as a goal or career. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to be like Steven Spielberg, who was the only name in movies I actually knew. No idea what he did, mind, but I wanted to do it, whatever it was.
So when people ask me “when” I started writing, I don’t think they mean all this. That’s dabbling. I think they’re asking about intent really.
Around age 10 or 11, I started to write stories. Really write them. I wrote them for my best friend, and I used favorite characters from books and movies and television. I didn’t know what fan fiction was; I didn’t learn about that until I was in college. I just liked weaving together incredibly complex stories that explored the characters more. And somewhere in there I became aware that screenwriting was a thing, that people wrote movies and TV shows. This was amazing to me. Two of my very favorite things in one! So when I went to college, I got a film degree and focused on screenwriting. And at the same time I discovered the wider fan community and became a fan fiction author. I got invited to conventions as a guest, and they were always amazed when they met me because I was 17 and apparently most fanfic writers were middle-aged women. It was fun, though. So much fun.
At the same time, I was interning on film sets and writing my final project, which was a spec for The X-Files. But while they taught me the mechanics of screenwriting, no one taught me the process of getting scripts to people, or networking, or all the other things that you really need to succeed. No one thought to tell me that, when the producer invited me to go to L.A., I should have done it. Instead, I had one more year of college and I stayed and finished. Only later would I realize I’d wasted a huge opportunity.
So when did I become a writer? In middle school, when I figured out that was what I wanted to do? In college, when I actually started trying? Or does it only count once I started getting published?
The school newspaper and literary magazine notwithstanding, I count my “first publication” as 2004. That year I had poems accepted in two literary journals and a short story published in Future’s Mysterious Anthology Magazine. I thought at the time I’d finally made it!
I wouldn’t have anything else published for four years, and that would be a self-pubbed anthology. Then, in 2012, I self-published my first Sherlock Holmes story. I count that as the true sparking of my career. (2012 was also the year I had my first play produced.) So when people ask, is that what I should say?
In truth, I began being able to focus on my writing again after I had children. Because I was home. Before that, I was working in publishing, making other people’s books happen and not doing any writing of my own (aside from blogging). But after I had my first baby, I opted to stay home. And rediscovered my love of writing.
And I started again with fan fiction. It was well received, and that encouraged me. I went back to the Sherlock Holmes story I’d written in 1999 (for grad school) and decided to put it on Amazon. It did well. I was further encouraged. And everything else flowed from there.
So. When did I start writing? A long time ago. When did I really devote myself to writing? Around 2009 or 2010 when I started writing fanfic again. I needed to scrape the rust off my skills, and that was a good way to do it. So that when it came time to turn my efforts to my original work, I was oiled up and ready to go.
And here I am. Chugging alone. It’s not always a smooth ride, but I’m enjoying most of the scenery.