In the Beginning

I suppose that every writer, like every story, has a beginning.  The trick with both is to pick a place just before the inciting incident to get started, that way there isn’t too much back story before things get going.

For me, this would be when I was about five.  I’d been (according to my mom and dad) a story teller since I could talk, and had started reading at three, and had spent time writing my ABC’s and putting them together into crooked words, but I’d never written very much that hadn’t been dictated to me by my mother. Then one day, I remember that it was a Friday,  she gave me a new book (something she and dad could rarely afford to buy).  I was very excited. I think it was Fox in Socks and when I was done with it, she put a notebook and a fat, red pencil in my hands and said, “now you’re going to write me a book report. Answer the questions I wrote at the top.”

It didn’t take me long to write in the title of the book, who the characters were, what I thought it was about, my favorite part, and why I liked the book.  Despite the brevity of the assignment, I was furious when I was finished. I felt like I had wasted a lot of time and effort putting something together that I could simply have told her if she’d asked me.  I told her I didn’t like book reports.  I also figured that I’d never have to write one again.  The odds of getting a new book any time soon were very low.

Next Friday came.  There was no new book, but I got told to write another book report. It was on a book called Mouse Soup, which was the book I’d first learned to read. I whined and pleaded and considered throwing the notebook away, which at the time seemed like an irrevocable action; things just didn’t come back out of the trashcan.  Finally, Mom made a deal with me.  I could sit outside on the steps of our trailer house and write the report instead of taking a nap with my two younger brothers.  That worked for me.

I scribbled in the answers as quickly as I could, not bothering to think about spelling or punctuation.  When I was done answering the questions she’d written, I left the notebook on the steps and went to climb the elm tree that made our tiny sliver of yard a little bit more private than many of the others. I concluded that doing something as dumb as writing a book report was worth it as long as it got me out of a nap. I couldn’t shake the suspicion that I would be writing book reports once a week until I was a grown-up, but next Friday seemed like the distant future so I was content to scramble from branch to branch, singing made up words to a made up tune.

That Sunday, after breakfast, Mom brought out the notebook and handed it to Dad.  I was horrified.  I didn’t want him to look at what I’d written.  I hadn’t been careful about my handwriting or my spelling.  I hadn’t tried to do a good job of making my answers sound good.  As much as I’d hated writing those two book reports, I wanted my dad to be proud of me.  I didn’t want the one day I saw him in a week (that’s how much he worked at the time) to be spoiled by my badly written assignment.

I was immensely relieved as he read through them out loud, pride and affection clear in his voice. He told me I was a smart kid.  If Mom had asked me to write another book report right then, I’d have done it and taken special care to make it perfect.  Which is not to say that I didn’t whine and complain the next Friday when she told me to do another one.  I was five, after all.

This memory stands out to me as the beginning of my path to being a writer mostly because it was the period of time when I began building the skill-set that would let me put the stories I was always telling down on paper.  I completed my first one the summer before I turned seven, but I could never have written out that childish daydream if my mother hadn’t first made me write about other people’s books.

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~ by lamichaud on February 24, 2012.

2 Responses to “In the Beginning”

  1. You were so lucky that your parents saw your potential at such an early age. They gave you such a great gift. You write very well.

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