Imagination, Memory, Musings, Read, Writing

Cultivating a fiction writer

girlpeekIn my earliest memory, I am lying on my stomach in the kitchen looking through the square holes in a grate. I am eighteen months old. My parents and I live in the upstairs apartment of an old house converted into a duplex. Our kitchen lies above the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Our only heat source is radiant, meaning the heat from downstairs rises into our apartment through open grates in our floor. My mother warns me not to drop anything through the holes, but that was never my intention. The family who lives downstairs is eating dinner, their table is directly below the grate, and I am watching them and listening to their conversation. That’s the extent of that memory, but I now see it as an early indication of my interest in observing people, what they do, what they say, how they act and react.

Yesterday, I followed a link to a video interview with John Irving. In one segment1, he mentioned an early indication he knew he could be a writer: he desired and needed a lot of alone time. Aha!, I thought. Sometimes, when I look back on my childhood, it seems sort of like those Charlie Brown cartoons where adults are unseen, their voices muted. I had parents, two sisters, and a fair amount of friends, but I preferred to spend a lot of time alone with my imagination.

At this point, I can’t say if that choice was strictly my nature or if circumstances enhanced the tendency. Early in my school career, teachers labeled me one of the “smart kids.” That designation sets you apart in ways both good and bad. You may have free time while other students work on a subject that you breezed through. You may also be assigned extra work. In both cases, you’re alone.

childreadingIf you’re a writer, then you are a reader. And I presume, like me, as a child you gobbled up books like candy. I don’t know about you, but reading time was alone time for me. And then, inspired by what I read, I wanted to act out my own stories in the backyard with my baby dolls in my “covered wagon” or behind the living room sofa where I sat up an “apartment” for my Barbies. Alone. Whole conversations carried on in my head.

Of course, I played games with other children, but I preferred make believe to sports or most physical activity. I would try to act out some of my stories with friends, but it was frustrating for us all. I always wanted to be the star and director—“now you say this and then you do that and then I say …” It was just easier to play alone.

sickgirlWhen I got a little older, the ultimate isolator struck—illness. I spent only nine months of my seventh, eighth, and ninth grades actually in school. The rest of that time I was either bedridden, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. Except for three months with a visiting teacher, I taught myself and took tests by phone. Needless to say, I didn’t fare well in the social skills usually developed during this period of life. But I can remember only a few times feeling lonely. And never was I bored. I had my imagination.

In light of all this, do I mind that writing requires me to spend a lot of time alone? Of course not. I think I was cultivated for this life. Only now, I don’t lay on my stomach peeping at the neighbors. I just close my eyes to watch and listen for the story to unfold.

1 The whole interview is here: http://bigthink.com/johnirving  If you want to hear just the portion I referenced, click the segment titled: How to Tell if You’re a Writer

19 thoughts on “Cultivating a fiction writer”

  1. I’m shocked that you remember something from when you were 18 months old. That’s amazing. I loved that glimpse into your life. I agree with you, I love to be alone. A few years back, when my oldest was six, someone asked her what her parents’ hobbies were. For my husband she said, “Daddy likes to play with his children and take us to the park.” For me, she said, “Mommy likes alone time and naps.” LOL I laughed. At the time I was pregnant so I was super tired all the time, but she really was right. I do enjoy my alone time. 🙂

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    1. Years ago, when I mentioned this memory to my mother she was shocked. She said I couldn’t possibly remember that apartment because we only lived there until I was about twenty months old. Then I started listing all the houses or apartments I remember living in and she was amazed. Some of them she had forgotten until I described them to her. I think it’s just that I was a very observant child and catalogued these details. Actually, I have a photo of me with the little boy who lived downstairs and I was indeed quite young.

      “Mommy likes alone time” is something I’m sure my sons would know about me, too. Then again, mothers of four DESERVE alone time! 🙂

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  2. Wow! I can’t believe you remember being 18 months old! I, like you, enjoyed my alone time. I still do. Given the choice between a football game or party and staying home and reading which ever book was currently stuck between my bed and the wall (that’s where I always put the current read), I would choose the book every time. My mom used to encourage me to do things other than read. I think she was worried I wouldn’t be well-rounded.

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    1. And just look how beautifully you turned out!

      As far as I know that’s the ONLY memory I have from that age. My next earliest memories start from several months after that one. But that one is a rather odd one to retain, I think. Unless its sole purpose was to be used in this blog post. 🙂

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  3. Beautiful post. I feel as if you just opened a window for me to peer into my 8 year old daughters imagination. She is already a wonderful writer, spending hours filling pages with thoughts, felings, stories and play.

    As an author myself, I relate to this post…but it is the connection to my daughter that made it really speak to me.

    Thank you for that.

    Many Kind Regards,
    Erin

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    1. Erin, thank you for stopping by and leaving this comment. It would be wonderful if all parents recognized the creative child, so they could guide and nurture those qualities. Your daughter is fortunate.

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