Have you ever been surrounded by extremely talented people and you realize you are a bit out of place? Welcome to my life.
I am the fourth child of eight children. All of them have visible talent. Art, singing, writing. Often times all three. I would say that they had a natural talent but also cultivated it with practice. I mean, if you are good at something, wouldn’t you want to keep doing it?
I was okay at art. I could do more than stick figures, but not like my siblings. They were excellent.
I was okay at singing, I could hold a tune, but not like my siblings. They understood pitch, tone, and could do that head thingy of falsetto. I was an alto. In choir I could barely sing as high as they wanted our section to go. My siblings, they could really sing.
Writing? At first I didn’t even go there. Writing was for creative people. Interesting people. More intelligent people and those who could come up with great metaphors and similes. Those who had a way with words and could create a scene in the reader’s mind that was intricate and vivid.
My first taste of writing was in sixth grade. My language arts teacher, Mrs. Gray at Ida Price Middle School (hi Mrs. Gray!) had given us all an assignment. We were to write a children’s story. Not only would we write it, we’d illustrate it and she would bind it for us. So I did and I got an A on it. It was about a boy who was scared of the monster under his bed (I’ll link it once I scrounge up a copy – it is somewhere in the family memorabilia). I remember my siblings thinking it was cool and the surprised tone as one exclaimed, “She can write children’s books!” After that I was sort of dubbed the one who could write picture books. I’m not saying that was bad, if I hadn’t been told this perhaps I wouldn’t be writing today (and I still enjoy writing them). I knew at this point that there was a possibility that I could write really simple stories. It seemed fitting since I didn’t feel that smart, so of course they would need to be simple.* I couldn’t work the words like my older siblings and certainly not like the sister just younger than me. To write a detailed and elaborate story with relatable characters and intriguing plots? That was their job as creative geniuses.
In high school I started writing a story. I got about 2 pages, hand written in a notebook, and stopped. It felt forced. Felt like I was trying too hard. In hindsight, I was. I read it and I remember thinking the story in my head was good but what I wrote on paper realistically, well, wasn’t. I never showed it to anyone.
Now you have to know that by this time my sibling’s talent has increased. We’re all older and they’ve just gotten better as time went on. Some are writing their own music. Others have created beautiful pieces of art worth hanging in anyone’s home. Some write poetry that is profound and beautiful. Some have started novels with rich words and magical mysteries.
So I grew up in a home full of talented people and I was sort of the odd man out on that front. At least that is certainly how I felt. Especially when my younger sister showed me up in all three of these categories.
I still had a couple story ideas in my head, but I let them stay dormant. I couldn’t possibly write them. Who was I to create them? I couldn’t possibly make something that others would find valuable.
At this point I was an adult and I had a problem. I was a daydreamer. A bad habit. One that I had developed over years and years of practice as a child. It made me not appreciate the life I was living as much, but also it made me feel bad about what I had accomplished. Cause, quite frankly, I hadn’t done anything that anyone would find really worthwhile. Yet, in my daydreams I could be and do whatever I wanted. Coming back to reality was never pleasant. Oh look, I’m still me. I knew my life wasn’t bad. I had a good husband and four kids that I loved immensely. I lived in a good neighborhood in a humble but nice home. Yet, I was irritated a lot because of this terrible habit. So I decided to stop it.
One night as my little toddler was falling asleep in my arms, I refused to daydream. Instead I thought this line, “He slashed at her, cutting her from her high, defined cheek bone all the way down to the tip of her chin.” A scene expanded in my mind. I laid my son down, went to my computer and pulled up Word. I wrote the line down and kept writing. I wrote about a page worth of material. My eldest sister and I had just talked on the phone about writing. Myself writing children’s books and her writing novels. She mentioned something she read that Stephen King had said. She paraphrased it for me, but here’s the exact quote. He said, “While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
So I wrote this page and emailed it to her. Basically I asked her “What do you think? Am I competent enough to become good?” She emailed me, then she called. I could hear her smiling and giving some light laughter as she expressed to me how surprised she was because she didn’t know I could write! Not like that! This was no picture book. That was the day I discovered I could be a writer of novels.
With the boost of self confidence in hand I had the “small” job of figuring out what to do next.
*Remember this is my mind frame when I was younger. I definitely understand that there is major creative juices and work that goes into a picture book and do not mean to minimize that in anyway.