Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Scratch and Scribble Part 1

Every writer has to start somewhere. That's the best thing about writers; they have unlimited beginnings.

Did you know that the draft of Carrie was in the trash until Stephen King's wife saved it? Or that J.K. Rowling came up with the boy wizard while she was on a train. Charles Dickens was poor, imprisoned for his father's debts, until he started releasing his stories as serials in monthly magazines. Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead, while being a struggling actress in Hollywood, over a period of 7 years. It was rejected by 12 publishers before it was picked up. Chuck Palahniuk's fifth grade teacher told him to take up writing.

From every one, first comes the mundane life before, then they begin to get the itch. That familiar itch they must scratch . . . just to scribble something down.

So, I figured I'd lay my earliest memories on you, the readers, just so you know how it all came about; how I got the itch to be a scribbler before I became a serious writer.

It began with one book, my earliest memory of ever putting pen to paper to make a story. Sheesh, it was such a long time ago. Had to dig some stuff up from my 'memory palace' as Thomas Harris would put it, where the memories are more fragmented than the others.

I was at my desk, 3rd or 4th grade, completely wrapped up in my teacher who was reading The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson. It was a really great story from what I remember and she read it well. After she was finished, there was a project to be done. Each of us, she declared, would write our very own books. They would be put together with thin yellow pages and stapled together with a cover made from construction paper, yes, but they would be ours. The products of our imaginations were endless. But I was the one who couldn't get that Jackie Robinson book out of my head.

It was the story of Shirley Temple Wong, a Chinese girl who sails with her family to America. Arriving to New york, she is amazed at the wonders but doesn't know any english. It's 1947, and Jackie Robinson, a rising Brooklyn Dodgers player, inspires Shirley to see America as the land of opportunity. Written by Bette Bao Lord.

The story was charming and unique, being an outsider trying to adapt to a different culture. I was sad that it ended. Eureka! thought my little pudding of a mind, The story isn't over yet!

Furiously I worked on my book, drawing little illustrations for each chapter. The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson 2 would be great, I thought. I drew on the memories of the characters and imagined them continuing their lives in New York, finding it harder to keep their friendships intact, but in the end, Jackie Robinson wins a baseball game and the whole family finds hope again. After a late night, (I was the only kid to come in with bags under his eyes) my first manuscript was done. The cover was red, the binding was composed of three staples, the writing was sloppy cursive. It couldn't have been more than 15 pages. She collected them all, soon the time was 2:35pm and we all left.

Then, at home, the shocking realization in my little sensitive pudding mind, OH NO! I can imagine myself slapping both palms to my forehead. What if she reads it?!

Yes, every writer must battle with the inevitability of critique. I was going to be analyzed by my very first book critic and I was terrified. Chalk up another late night full of worries.

Sheepishly, the next day, I came to the desk as my teacher called me. My teacher was always a very kind woman and full of useful lessons, but I thought she would see my first attempt as nothing but useless scribbles.

To my immense surprise, she gave me back my book with a dazzling smile. "You should keep this," she said. "I think you'll want to save it."

I remember giving her a puzzled look. The book had her handwriting on the back of it, but I didn't read it until I got to my desk.

To the best of my memory it said something to the tune of, "This is outstanding!! You will be a really great writer someday! A+++"

I was floored.

Like any young crazy kid I tore through the door, screaming of my first scribbling success. I'll have to find that book now. If I do, I'll be sure to update this with a picture. I hope it isn't dust by now.

Has anyone else out there had a project similar to this?

"I believe that ordinary people change the world." ~ Brad Meltzer


Alissa said...

Our first writing triumphs are unforgettable. I still remember my first "reading". In second grade the principal of my school asked me to read my story on the school's television station. Of course I was scared out of my mind, but it was also thrilling.

P.G. Kurz said...

Mine was an "escape" story written in a frenzy at about age 10. Complete with characters and wiley escapes, it went about 100 hand scrawled pages. I was quite proud of myself, and the exercise aborted my anger at a restricting parent. By 8th grade I'd won a "short story" contest, but reading the little ditty today is embarrassing... not for its literariness (it was pretty okay), but for the blatant cry for escape... My latest effort is a book in progress I am calling "Run." It's the same old story. We all have one long encyclopedic manuscript within us. Call it a novel, serialize it, toss it in the trash, it's always there.

Rebecca said...

I have to say mine was anne of green gables, one of the chapter series books. I loved it.

It made me write little cute stories about farieis and dragons. I even became an "artiste" and rew pictures. My mom still has the book I made...

Keep this blog up rob, you're doing great love reading it.