It all starts with a different perspective, an understanding that you are, in some way, the Other.
Maybe it starts when your mother, then the thrall of your two-year-old whims, reads the same five books to you every day for three months on end. Pre-school is a better option, the psychiatrist says. How soon can he get in?
Maybe it starts in kindergarten when you raise your hand and tell the teacher you’re disgusted with being forced to read baby books that contain just one word per page. Red, green, doggy, kitty, who gives a shit? When are we going to read real books? you demand to know.
To which your wonderful, inspiring teacher replies, You can’t read real books.
So you pull the biggest book you can find off the shelf and prove her wrong.
Maybe it starts in the library where your teachers now allow you to go for hours of class time because you keep testing one or two points under “gifted”, but they still don’t know what to do with you. Greek Mythology looks interesting. There are naked people, after all, and heroes with swords. So you read every scrap of paper in that place, transported, as Bradbury would say, to other worlds, to parallel universes.
By the third grade, you weep for Hera, for whom you’re carrying a bit of a torch because Zeus never treated her the way you imagine Arthur must have treated Guinevere.
By your third decade, you weep to think of the library replaced by a glowing square wherein all the words in the world are intact, but Bradbury’s portal to the stars has been severed forever.
Maybe it starts when reading all those Lloyd Alexander books inspires you to write your first real short story. And hopefully it doesn’t end when you enter it in the 6th grade academic faire, and the judges call your parents to accuse them of foul play. There’s just no way your son wrote this on his own, they say. But your parents back you, stand firm. So the contest judges give you an honorable mention and award the Language Arts prize to a trio of girls who wrote and illustrated a baby book. Red, green, doggy, kitty…
Maybe this is where you pick up your loathsome habit of constantly correcting incompetent teachers, professors, political figures… After all, the world would be Narnia with a side of Idun’s apples if someone would just listen to you, right?
Maybe, as you develop further, it all lays dormant within you. There are other outlets. The sports teams you join solely to impress your father. The video games that tug at your imagination in ways that stories once did. Your early musings on girls, who can’t possibly be comprised of flesh and blood (and make-up and accessories!), but must by literary definition be fair, otherwordly, magical.
Not romance, but Romanticism. Not glamor, Faerie Glamour.
Life happens. Still, perhaps the need to write is rekindled by the realization of your continued idolization of characters that could never be, and your steadfast beliefs in wondrous things that never were.
Somehow it is—it must be—rekindled.
Maybe it’s fanfiction that gets the gears grinding again. Maybe it’s bad breakup poetry that would make your English teacher weep for all the wrong reasons. Maybe it’s NaNoWriMo.
Maybe it’s a blog.
What it is doesn’t matter so much as what you do with it, for here the path splits. Either you write in isolation for a time, with no audience in mind, merely to hear the sound of your own voice, or you write to try and impress. Your choice. There’s no right path or wrong path now, no high road or low road. You’re going to be here awhile because Robert Frost sold you an odious lie—writers can’t just choose the road less traveled by.
Without a voice, no writer can be heard. Without an audience, no writer can be heard. The writer must therefore take both paths, see every milestone through, and hopefully learn something of metaphor along the way.
For some, there will come a time of purple prose, spurred on by examining too closely the writing styles of your chosen pantheon of pen-wielding paragons. (You want to be a writer, so I assume you’re reading something worthy of examination.) For others, there will come a time of unmetered verse, spurred on by focusing too deeply on the expression of your proven pantheon of poets.
You will doubt yourself a writer when you examine your works of three months past and feel only shame.
Maybe this is where you go to college and study English while dealing with the general perception that you’re studying a language that you speak because you have failed famously at every other endeavor in your life.
Or maybe this is where you try to quit. It’s easier to make a living at almost anything else, you realize. And such beastly competition about it. Maybe you’re not a writer at all, but a man of action.
Maybe this is where reality rattles you.
But you won’t quit. Writing is something you do. It isn’t your choice. You’re an Other, remember? You have perspective. And besides, your opinionated nature is driving your spouse crazy and turning your children into perfect cynics. Here, a notebook! they say. Now go away!
This might be the part where your mind, which has to analyze anything, everything, nothing, will ponder how a relationship can be strengthened by space. You’re not going to figure it out, though. No one ever has. This frustrates you, so you begin doing the only thing in your power—writing. Writing!
You are the master of your own illusionary world.
Somehow, out of this bowed, blank screen; out of these dull, black letters, a voice will emerge. It will resonate. You will know it for your own. You will sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Someone might even hear it.
And that issue you were writing about? You realize that when you apply it to an audience, when you stop writing in a vacuum, it becomes an idea.
How to become an author, you ask? That’s a different topic. Rostand wrote that love is a lottery. When it comes to loving one’s words, I agree with him entirely.
And when it comes to taking that next step, Rostand would doubtless agree with this, my new favorite image of all time: