Recently someone asked me this question at a party: “Where does your writing thing come from? Like, is it genetic or something?” After I stopped laughing over the notion of a “writing thing,” I realized that I didn’t have a ready answer. It’s not something I’ve thought about. Writing is simply a fact of life to me, much like being left-handed or disliking salmon. I’ve always had a “writing thing.”
Looking back, though, I can see where the seeds were sown. First of all, my parents are avid readers and reading time was sacred in our house. When I was too young to read on my own, they read to me every night. My parents never put down or censored my reading choices (beyond some things that were wildly inappropriate), and many of the books that were read to me were well above my abilities. I was never limited to children’s books or picture books, even at a young age. Mom and dad believed in stories and, even if I couldn’t read for myself, they trusted that I could appreciate the story.
Second, my father writes a bit. He spent the evenings after work with his notebooks working on short stories or family histories and he’s kept it up, even in retirement. He even wrote several stories for me. While he’s never been published, he does take a lot of joy in simply playing with words and creating little worlds. Growing up watching all of that writing night after night created a positive perception of the value of writing.
Third, TV wasn’t a huge influence in our house. If I said I was bored, I was encouraged to read a book or do something else creative like go outside or play with my action figures and building sets. I turned most of these things into storytelling adventures. I made up stories for the action figures and acted them out. The outside world was full of stories like explaining how that big rock came to be in the yard, or imagining the few trees we had as a deep forest to explore. I’d act out the same stories frequently, refining and editing them until I had what I considered to be the perfect narrative. I was telling and editing stories long before I knew that writing and editing were actual jobs.
Fourth, there was the typewriter. When I was about six, I received a child’s typewriter for Christmas. I was paid a penny per page for any stories that I wrote. It was supposed to help alleviate boredom, encourage creativity, and teach language skills. (I apologize for quickly grasping the idea of story bloat in an effort to pad my stories for more money.) I loved banging away on that typewriter. It felt so professional. My stories likely made no sense and my poor parents probably hated reading them, but it instilled in me the idea that writing could be both fun and an occupation.
Fifth, there were the journals. No one told me to journal, but somewhere along the way I started doing it and just never stopped. I probably got into it because I was an only child and didn’t have a ton of friends. Journals gave me a place to talk to about whatever was bothering me or great in my life at the time. While nothing in there was Pulitzer-worthy, it did get me used to regularly putting words on the page and feeling good about it.
Of course, there were more influences along the way. There were English teachers who encouraged me to enter contests or join the newspaper, librarians who recognized my interest in words and bent over backwards to recommend books and resources, a grandmother who let me help with her word puzzles, and a guidance counselor who said, “Of course you can be a writer,” when I brushed it off as a career option.
I suspect that most writers share a similar experience. You may not realize exactly where your “writing thing” came from, but I bet if you look back over your life, it’ll be pretty clear where you got the urge. It may be genetic, or simply a combination of influences throughout your life. No one grows up in a vacuum, after all.
It was fun for me to look back and put the pieces together. Now I have an answer the next time someone asks where my “thing” comes from. More importantly, I’ve solved a little mystery about myself and gained a greater appreciation for those who helped me along the way.