Writing. Woops, did I forget to put that in the title? Anyway, I posed a question to our writers: what as your earliest experience with writing? I made it clear that I wasn’t asking for a homework assignment or an essay for school. I meant their first time writing for fun. A time when they put pen to paper and felt the exhilaration of creation. I asked them this question because I thought it would be interesting to see where we all started from and how we’ve grown from our first experiences writing. Last month Melanie Figueroa wrote a post about writing being similar to athletics in that they both require practice and commitment. I thought this post would be a great compliment to that idea—our writers didn’t start off as master poets, and heck, I know I’m still not there yet.
So below are the stories of our first times we wrote for pleasure.
My earliest memories of writing come from my sixth birthday. I remember opening up a gift that looked like a book. I had the sort of expression that one would expect any average kid to have when they receive a book as a gift. This book was different though. It had a lock on it. I stared at it confused, shaking it, and attempting to pry it open. My aunt laughed at my ignorance and knelt down beside me. “It’s a diary,” she said in a soft whisper, “You can write anything you want in it. Anything. This lock is to keep it secret so no one else can see it. Only you.” I looked at her with fascination and sparkle in my eyes. She gave me my first real treasure. I remember in the later months, I started writing anything and everything. One time, when my cousins refused to let me join them in their game of play, I stood there squinting my little brown eyes, thinking about what I’d write about them in my diary. I marched away, holding my powerful key, and wrote down “My cousins are stupid.” Except it probably looked something like “My cusens are stopid,” because I admittedly, was no spelling prodigy at six. I locked the book and felt a moment of reprieve. Every year after that, I begged my mom to buy me a new Pochacco diary from the Sanrio store. I started filling the diaries on an annual basis and it became a routine of mine to re-read the diaries and reflect on how my life changed. Not much has changed in my routine, with the exception that I now call them “Journals” and my spelling, grammar, and vocabulary have (as they darn well should have) advanced. I lost my first diary after several moves around Southern California when I was in high school. I do my best to hold onto my diaries/journals to gain insight into my own life.
I began writing when I was in junior high. Like most puberty-riddled teenagers, I believed I was a unique snow-flake and that my angst was more significant than everyone else’s. I really enjoyed the words “dark,” “pain,” “hurt,” and “tears,” which can give you an impression the kind of writer I was. I typically wrote poems during classes I maybe should have paid attention in, though I’m pretty sure I haven’t used algebra in the last eight years like I have writing. I wrote constantly and kept all these uniformed poems in a happy bunny lunch pail that I still have today. When I pull out and read these god awful poems, I do find the occasional gem. These poems are about autumn as rebirth rather than decay, or identity formation. Perhaps these can be reworked for later, but for now I enjoy the dark misery and tears that was my teenaged life. Thank god for maturation.
I was in the 4th grade. My parents both had music-admiration backgrounds (my mom was a groupie for Queen [sub side note – she was obviously a successful groupie since the lead singer she liked was a gay man] and my dad was a roadie for Black Sabbath) and my uncle-by-marriage played piano in a really bad leftover new wave band. He would give my cousin and I sheet music and we would write random music notes all over the paper and he’d play it for us. Our songs were awful, but all that music inspired me to write a horrible song to one of those random sheets of music paper about boys and girls being the best of friends. I don’t still have it. I think if I did have it, I’d burn it. It was pretty awful, from what I remember.
I’m sure I wrote three-sentence stories in elementary school—perhaps paired with a stick-figure illustration I drew myself and proudly gave to my mother—but I don’t remember them. My first memories of writing, not for school but for myself, are at family functions. Specifically Thanksgiving. While the adults talked downstairs, drinking cold cans of beer as they watched a game, my cousins and I congregated in the bedrooms upstairs. I’d write songs. Songs that, I hoped, would convey what it meant that our family was together. That we were celebrating the holidays. My lyrics were contrived, with lines like “Today’s about thanks and giving.” Proof that poetry doesn’t come naturally to a ten-year-old. At least not this ten-year-old. My cousin had a keyboard, and at the time, I had been taking piano lessons. I’d play along to the lyrics, my cousin Joey, the same age as myself, helping me write as we went. My cousin Kathryn would try to pitch in, her voice always off-key, and we’d shoo her away. At the end of the night, when the adults were sufficiently liquored up, we’d sometimes play for them. I imagine they smiled and nodded. I was no John Lennon, but their kids had made something out of nothing. It was the kind of thing that, years later, we’d laugh about. For years, I wrote lyrics. I quit playing the piano and picked up an acoustic guitar. My father paid for the lessons. My teacher had a thing for The Beatles, so that’s what we’d play. Come Together. Helter Skelter. Once a week, my mother would drive me through the hills of Fullerton to a voice coach. She’d sit on the couch in the woman’s living room as I stood at the grand piano belting out whatever song we were working on that week. I could sing in front of them. I could sing in front of family and friends. In the shower. In the car. But I couldn’t sing in front of strangers. My voice would catch, my throat would close, and any sound that escaped came out thin and bumpy. Around the age of fifteen, I accepted that music was a hobby. It was my first love, but it was never going to take me anywhere. And what I had always loved, anyway, were the words. The beauty of them. The way they said all the things I couldn’t. That’s when I started thinking of all those lyrics I had written as poetry.
I wrote young, and I wrote a lot. In fact, I can’t pinpoint my first writing folly: I’ve given my stories away for holidays with the worst illustrations imaginable for as long as I can remember. However, I do know my first grade assignment was reprinted and “published” on the school bulletin board when my nickname was still Missy Kissy. The plot (ha!) involved a little girl lost in a blizzard, and never mind where her parents were. I still remember catching an error my teacher made retyping it: She had changed “of” to “for,” and yes, I was as inconsolable as I would be now. The next year, I penned a story about discovering my sister was an alien (sorry, Christina) and won the school’s PTA fine arts contest. The story went to state, bad hand writing and all. But my earliest, most ambitious work I remember was titled—get ready—“A Sad Story with a (wait for it) Happy Ending” about an abusive stepfather. And no, I did not have an abusive stepfather. I did, however, have enough comma splices and an AP/Chicago/Missy hybrid style to confuse any native English speaker. I was only eight, but it was a good fifteen pages single-spaced, and my mom had it bound with a purple cover, which I promptly ruined with a black marker and some water. Fifth grade, however, was truly the year I became a little writer (probably because I figured out how to use a computer): I wrote a regular “newspaper” for my household and a dozen thirty-page mystery stories (hey, I was reading Trixie Belden at the time). I had to use the industrial stapler to clamp the stacks together, and the stories were even eligible for the Pizza Hut reading program for students at my school. And with that, my eleven-year old self officially puts my current, graduate school self to shame. And now I want pizza.
And now you have it. Our firsts. What was yours? Share in the comments below, and I think we all want a little pizza now.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.