Monday, October 6, 2014

The Evolution of a Writer

Image courtesy of Stoonn at
My sister F. is celebrating her birthday today!  So, in honor of the serendipitous occasion, I am sharing the story of her journey as a writer. There is a lot to be learned from her example, and I'm so proud of her that I couldn't resist the opportunity to boast about her a little.

Whereas I got a late start on writing at the ripe old age of 14, F. embarked on her writing journey sometime around the age of 7 or 8.  She just had to one-up me like that.  Of course, since she she is about 7 years younger than me, we started writing around the same time.  Naturally, as older sisters are prone to do, I accused her of "copying" me.

Anyone with younger siblings can attest to the horror of discovering that your brother or sister has an interest similar to yours.  I don't know how I survived. </sarcasm>

Her early stories definitely read like they are written by a 7-year-old.  First and second graders are not especially known for their writing abilities, though they tend to excel at writing sentences like "The dog barked," or "The squirrel ran up the tree."  And even then, "squirrel" was a word that I didn't have down until about third grade or so.  That's a tricky word for a very young writer.

Mostly, her stories were about her and her friends having fantastic adventures. There was one where she and her friends were all out in the middle of a field one day, and a massive tornado picked them up and scattered them all over our home state.  So, F.'s character would have to go around, rescuing them one at a time, and then they would start the journey home. I seem to recall that there were at least 12 different versions of this story at one point.  There was one where my older sister and I were involved, but we both got amnesia, so it was up to F. to save the day.

I don't exactly remember how F. spelled the word "amnesia," but I remember we were all greatly amused by it.

Her stories weren't limited to her friends, though.

We lived in a rural area and we had a barn.  As such, we also had barn cats.  And F. was obsessed with cats.  It was like a mini-paradise for her—a fluffy, meowing paradise. She actually had created this fantastic lore for the cats, and it was one to rival Richard Adam's rabbit lore in Watership Down. There was a hierarchy amidst the cats; there was a cat heaven.  There was even a rite of passage when the kittens passed into cat-hood, called "comimming."  F. would come inside from playing with the cats and declare something like, "Keeper [one of the cats] was comimmed today!" 

As she got older, her stories became more focused on cats (and occasionally, other animals).  Her writing style was still immature, but we had finally convinced her that    she   didn't    need   multiple    spaces   between    words.  We had also taught her by this time that different speakers each get their own paragraph in dialogue (for tips on writing dialogue, check out this post I did a while back).

The more she wrote, the more her skills improved.  The older she got, the more her skills improved.  In her early teens, she started writing this story called "The Race to Defend Mankind," which was about these two sects of dogs.  One sect wanted to destroy humanity, the other wanted to preserve it.  She still inserted herself by name. My older sister and I also merited a place in the story, though I think only my older sister L. suffered from amnesia this time.  I think that L. may have been brainwashed by the evil dogs, turned into a pawn in their sick game for world domination. Sadly, we lost the documents in a computer crash, so I can't verify any of this. 

By the time she was sixteen, this story had evolved significantly. She had replaced the real-life characters with fictional characters.  The story was so detailed. The conflict was believable.  And while yes, it was about dogs, it was not a silly story.  Anyone who thinks that stories with talking animals are childish should read either Watership Down, Animal Farm, or the Redwall series. It was a really great story.  She had a lot of mentoring from me and my parents as she exercised her writing abilities.

Sadly, a serious battle with illness prevented her from ever finishing this.  She's been dealing with it since then.  She tried starting another story recently, but she's just been too ill to work on it.  Now, she mostly writes poetry, and she's found that she's much better at writing poetry than at writing prose. Her poetry is beautiful and evocative.  It's a heart-wrenching look into the effects her illness have had upon her.  I am so proud to say that my sister is a writer.

There is a lot to be learned from F.'s journey as a writer.  While she started young, with very little writing skills, it took her well over ten years to become a mature writer.  Even now, she can still improve.  I found that while I started from a better place in terms of competency with writing in the English language, it took me close to around that long to settle into a solid writing style.  Even now, I can improve.

There are phases that every writer passes through.  It begins with stories where the main character is the author, or a very thinly veiled version of the author.  Then, the author begins to write stories where the characters are truly fictional, with their own backgrounds.  Storytelling skills—not just grammatical skills—improve steadily.

Perhaps some writers evolve faster than others.  Regardless of the timeline, however, my sister's story should be an encouragement to every developing writer.  Time and practice will take you to the next level.  Finding a mentor will help take you to the next level.  In the end, you might learn that your writing abilities are better suited to a different form or genre than you write in now. Of course, you might not. However, if you find yourself drawn to another form of writing, that may be the style that is best for you—and your writing skills will soar higher than ever before.

Her story should also teach you that there is never a hurry to be a writer.  Life intervenes and slows you down sometime, but you can still persevere in your writing.  You might not be the next Christopher Paolini, whose first book was published before the age of twenty, but that doesn't preclude you from being a world-changing writer.  J.R.R. Tolkien's first book, The Hobbit, wasn't published until he was in his forties.  The Fellowship of the Ring was not published until 1954, when Tolkien was in his sixties.  Much of his other work has been published posthumously (after his death)—most recently, his English translation of Beowulf.

F. and I will continue to evolve as writers as the years wear on, regardless of how long our journeys are. So will you.  Your journey could take you anywhere, and even if it's slowed by illness or other life changes, you will continue to become better and better.

If you're a writer, when did you first start writing? How has your journey progressed? Share any thoughts in the comments. 

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  1. I remember reading F.'s tornado story! She wanted to be a meteorologist at the time. She even asked me to take pictures of any tornados I might see. Fun memories.

  2. I remember trying to write something original back in elementary school, but it flopped pretty badly, and I quit writing on my own time. In 6th grade we wrote two stories for an assignment, and I still have those- I'd say that I'm pretty proud of them, considering my age at the time. The summer before 7th grade, I rediscovered a childhood (say, 1st grade) fandom: Teen Titans. I decided that Beast Boy really needed a girlfriend, the stories of which eventually evolved into a pretty fun group of one-shots. That was my first introduction to fanfiction, and in February, TMNT (the 2003 version first, then the Nick one a little while after) stole my heart and introduced me to that summer. I've been hooked ever since; reading and writing fanfics are (or would it be 'is'? I think it's 'are', because it refers to 'things' in the plural...) my favorite things to do anytime and anywhere. The demands of high school make writing consistently rather difficult, but all in all, I have found myself more dedicated to these stories than I ever have been to my original writing.