Chapter Two

It’s interesting, as I sit here and think about my writing history, to realize how big a role that writing (and reading, for the two are interconnected) has played in my life. There are times, especially now, that I wish I had been more cognizant of this as I planned my life. Then again, I might be a different person living a different life, and I would never wish for that.

Several months ago, I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. It was a life-changing experience. Though I would never compare my writing abilities to his, I do think that our approach to writing is very similar. As I read his words and his description of The Process, I found myself tearing up. That probably sounds terribly odd and silly, but it was just such a relief to know that what I do, how I write, is similar to someone who is a master storyteller. It gave me hope that I can be a writer, even if only to get the stories out of my head.

In his book, King talks about the tools that a writer needs, and I have taken that section to heart. I even teach elements from it to students in my creative writing class. And as I think about those tools, I think about a writing assignment from third grade that demonstrates King’s discussion of those tools.

Details. Details are an important element to writing, and there is a fine line between too few and too many. I think I learned that lesson in third grade. One of the teachers kept a little box of index cards. Each card detailed a writing prompt, an idea for a story. Once in a while, we would get to pull one of those cards and write a story on it. I remember being anxious and a little annoyed at this exercise. Not because I didn’t like to write stories but because we didn’t get to read through the cards before picking one; our stories’ fates were based on pure chance. We pulled a card at random and that’s the story we had to write. It was agonizing!

I remember one particular day. We had completed this exercise, and we were gathered along the windows, sitting on the floor and getting nervous about reading our stories to our fellow classmates. I was excited to read mine, but if you were to ask me now, I couldn’t tell you what I had written about.

I sat there, reading over my words, probably feeling the way that Ralphie did in A Christmas Story when he had to write his theme for English class (“Wow! That’s great!”). I’ll admit it; I was a little egotistical when it came to my writing skills. Anyway, it was hard for me to focus on my classmates’ stories because I just wanted to get up there and read my own.

I don’t remember reading mine. I’m sure I did; we all had to read. I don’t remember if anyone listened. I don’t remember if anyone thought it was any good. I guess that wasn’t the lesson I needed to learn from that day.

What I do remember, however, is the story a classmate read. It wasn’t a story. It was a list. A very long and tedious list of different colored objects that the main character saw while taking a walk. The list went on and on. “I saw a blue this and a red that and then a green that…” It was torture. The teacher must have felt it, too. When my classmate was done, she scolded him. I don’t remember her exact words, of course. But I do remember her scolding him for not telling a story.

A story is based on the details that a writer shares. These details tell the reader everything that she needs to know about the characters, the setting, and the movement of the plot. Too few details leave the reader feeling a certain disconnect, a lack of caring about where the story goes. Too few details leads to a book being set aside after a chapter or two, never to be picked up again.

Too many details can be just as detrimental. They bore the reader, leave her wishing the author would just get on with the story already! Too many details can be the death of a story.

It’s such a fine line. And really, one really can’t expect a third-grader to recognize that line.

Still. I recognized it. And I wonder, if I’d had the adult lucidity to recognize that moment for what it was, how my writing life would have been different and if it would have started sooner…

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Chapter One

First grade was a powerful year for me. Powerful in that I learned the value of the written word. I wish I had paid more attention to that year as I was planning out my future. Sometimes, I think that if I had, some things in my life would be a little different and would be making me a little bit happier. But I digress…

My teacher that year was Mrs. Cooper. She was an angel. Sweet, enthusiastic, kind. I loved being in her class and loved going to school. I can’t say that about every year of my education and about every teacher who played a part in it.

There are two events that made that year pivotal for me. The first event took place because of my favorite time of the school day: reading circle. We’d all gather around the area in front of Mrs. Cooper’s desk. Usually, she would have a book or stories from a children’s magazine to read to us. As we all became more proficient readers, we were allowed to read to our peers. I loved reading by then and thought that being allowed to read aloud was a great honor. I was ahead of many of my peers when it came to reading, too. I don’t say that to brag. I just loved it more than many of them, and that made me more voracious both in terms of the quantity of reading that I did and, through that constant practice, the quality of that reading.

On the day that sticks in my memory, one of my friends had been chosen to read to the class. I don’t remember what she was reading, but I do remember that she was my kind of reader. We didn’t pick stories that contained three-letter words that ended in -at; we read stories much like Mrs. Cooper would pick for us. I liked this girl for her reading prowess, but a tiny part of me also viewed her as competition. I think, looking back, that I just wanted Mrs. Cooper’s favor, to be her favorite.

Anyway, my friend was reading the story she had brought in. As she did so, she stumbled over a longer word; I wish I could remember which one. She struggled to pronounce it, as young readers do, and then she turned to ask Mrs. Cooper for help. I didn’t realize it then, but I was about to be tested. Mrs. Cooper turned to me and said, “Nichole? Could you help her figure this word out?”

I think I might have strutted much in the manner of a peacock as I walked up to Mrs. Cooper’s desk. I looked at the page, considered the word for a moment, and stated what I felt was it’s proper pronunciation. I smiled proudly (and probably a little annoyingly) and returned to my seat. Frankly, I couldn’t tell you if I got that word right. But it felt right. And I liked the feeling that I got from that moment, that I was smart and that knowing words was a good thing.

The other event I remember is a writing exercise we did. Unlike most where we were just writing different letters and words over and over and over again, for this assignment we were allowed to write a story. Mrs. Cooper had  coloring pages for us, and once they were colored, we were to write a story about the picture. I chose carefully. I didn’t want to write about a pig on a bike or a little girl with a lollipop. I wanted to write literature…well, as much as my first-grade mind could comprehend that idea.

The picture I chose was of a boy, girl, and their dog. I believe they were playing in a small pond. But in my little writer’s mind, it was not a pond. It was quicksand. They were trapped in it and trapped in a desperate struggle to free themselves.

Not bad for a first-grader, huh?

Well, it probably was. Bad, that is. But I do remember two things. I remember Mrs. Cooper’s surprised look when I asked her how to spell quicksand. And I remember the rush I got from that writing exercise. As much as I loved reading stories to my peers, this idea that I could write stories for them to enjoy? It was empowering. It was thrilling.

It was the first time that I felt like a Writer, an elusive title that, even now, I use rarely for fear that I don’t measure up to it.

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There’s something about a new keyboard on a new laptop. Each letter makes a distinct click as your fingers brush across it. None of them stick, having not yet fallen victim to that spilled cup of morning coffee. They still have that slippery feeling against your fingertips. If I leaned closely enough, they may even have that new keyboard smell.

New laptop. New start.

After self-publishing two books, I have the fever. Words are my drug of choice, and I’m hooked. I don’t hold delusions of being the next best-seller. I would settle for selling to someone beyond friends and family. But I do hold strong to the idea that I am a writer and that I need to write. I must write.

My sister gave me a blank notebook for Christmas. Its purpose? To fill it with all the ideas I have for books I want to write. It’s the best material gift I’ve ever received. And while I fill that with the ideas, I intend to fill this blog, chapter by chapter, with the journey I’m about to undertake. My next book. My process. My joys. My shortcomings. All of the madness that comes after one declares, “I am a writer.”

I am a writer. Let the story begin.

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