Yesterday I told a friend about the day I knew I wanted to be a writer. Afterward, I realized I’d never really told the story out loud before—to myself or anyone else—let alone write about it.
So this is me writing about it.
I barely remember anything about middle school, but I keenly remember that my seventh grade English teacher made us write something every day. Every time she asked us to whip out the spiral notebooks on which she had made us write “Journal” on the front cover, my classmates quietly groaned.
I probably groaned at first, too.
Each day she created this awkward silence for about 15 minutes that was started with the vague command, “Write something.” At the beginning of the year she explained that we could write about anything.
The freedom was stifling.
Many students sat with their chins buried in their propped-up hands, staring around the room and slowly tapping their pencils on their desks. Our English teacher never barked, “Get to work” or “Start writing” or “You’ve only got three minutes left.”
It was always dead silence. She just sat at her desk, grading papers. Sometimes she looked up and smiled mildly at the students staring at her, silently asking with their imploring little expressions, “Why are you making us do this?”
Other times she meandered around the room, glancing over shoulders, and beaming if she actually found a student launching into a narrative.
Like the others, I had no idea what to write. I didn’t know what she wanted. I wondered what kind of strange test this was and I doubted that I was going to pass it. It made me really anxious.
With nothing to go on, I eventually just started randomly recording details from my life. I wrote about winning a baseball game. I told about a bad haircut my friend had gotten. I talked about how my single mom worked two jobs. I revealed my crush on Madonna.
When we got to the end of the year I had easily filled up the entire notebook. But, there was one last assignment. We had to write about what we learned from all this writing. Another open-ended mission.
I can’t remember what all I said in that final essay, but I clearly remember the conclusion: In writing these daily entries and then going back and reading them I learned that when I write, that’s my true voice. That’s my true self.
It still kind of baffles me that I could have a moment of clarity like that as a 13 year-old. But, there it is. I still feel exactly the same way. When I write, that’s who I really am. That’s my unique voice in the universe. When I speak, it never quite gets there.
From the moment I first wrote that, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew I wanted to tell stories for a living.