What makes a writer? What ignites the spark in someone that motivates them to communicate their innermost thoughts to others through the medium of writing?
For me, everything started at least partially because I was an only child. My imagination was the only playmate I had growing up; I spent a lot of time alone, and began to draw pictures that I would caption with my limited child’s vocabulary, and staple the pictures together into “books” to create a narrative entertaining to my young mind. My parents encouraged such behavior; reacting to each new series of pictures with enthusiasm.
They also introduced me to the joy of reading. Some of my earliest memories were lying in bed before sleep, with my mother sitting on the bed next to me reading to me. She didn’t read me children’s books either; she read me classics like the Canterbury Tales, or Treasure Island, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I would lie back and close my eyes and listen to my mother’s voice, watching the images in my mind’s eye as the story unfolded; like a theater in my head.
My parents were voracious readers; to the extent they even incorporated a library into the house. It was an eclectic mix of travel books, two shelves of Encyclopedia Britannica, and an astonishing array of novels and histories. I remember being about six or maybe seven years old and absently running my hands over the books on the shelf, and suddenly one of the books – a small paperback – came into my hand.
The cover showed the image of an appropriately grim-faced cowboy sitting on a horse in front of snow-covered mountains. The title was Radigan, a novel by Louis L’Amour, and I was entranced. I sat on the rug on the library floor, absorbing every word, image, and concept; reveling in the experience until my mother came to get me for dinner. After we ate, I went right back to it and read until it was time to go to bed; I finished it the next morning. I kept thinking how amazing it was someone sat down and wrote that story, and how it had transported me and affected me… and I thought about how wonderful it would be to spend your life creating such stories.
From that point on, I always had a notebook with me. I spent every spare moment scribbling down ideas and sentences and phrases I thought would be cool for a character to say. I thought about people I respected and the qualities they had and how those could become the motivations to drive characters I would find interesting to write about. Then I thought about the paths their lives took before they came to that first moment they entered into a story; the experiences the reader might not glean from the story itself but which shaped the person they were reading about.
Over time, writing became more than just a hobby. It became my passion, my coping mechanism, my way of understanding myself. If I had a bad day, I could write about it to put things into perspective. If I was angry or frustrated, I could write about it to vent the tension. If I aspired to something, I could write about what I needed to do to get there. I wrote everything from simple observations to passing thoughts to short stories to basic and fundamental beginnings of novels I wanted to write. I created characters of every type; warriors and wizards, heroes and heroines, cops and criminals… even of everyday people standing along the periphery of significant events and watching them transpire, fearing the future the events were creating and wondering what they might do to adapt to their new reality.
Then, finally, came that moment; the moment when an idea was born that stayed with me and kept me up at night. The idea for a story grand and powerful; so large that I needed to create an entire universe for it to transpire within. Alien worlds and species to inhabit them, and the advanced civilizations and cultures that embodied them; all came from the depths of my imagination and found their way into that story. I met characters that became real people to me; people I knew as well as anyone could know another person. People I cared about and worried about and wanted the best for, and sometimes had to witness them endure horrific trials; but in the end they were successful, and I mourned their losses even as I exulted with them at their ultimate triumph.
Such is the power of being a writer.