Recently I spoke to a high school writing class about the craft of writing and the importance of writing groups. Kids these days are super smart and they asked some great questions—which thankfully I had beforehand. Why did I decide to become a writer? They wanted to know.
Seems like an easy question, right?
Not so much. It would have been easy to put forth a pat answer which wouldn’t be untrue but I wanted to dig deeper—for myself as well as the class. Why did I want to be writer? What made me choose that career? I did well in English, loved to read, and was not bad at writing but that wasn’t enough.
I wanted to be a journalist. It was one of the first writing careers I knew about and I never questioned that that’s what I wanted to do with my life. Insert pictured drawing above.
How did I stumble on that career at such a young age? I read a book. Nothing new there. I somehow had gotten my hands on a biography (for kids) of Nellie Bly—a woman journalist in the 1800’s. (I don’t remember the title.) Did you know women were reporters back then? I sure didn’t. And not just a journalist but an activist for social justice. A pioneer in a male dominated world and in investigative reporting. An incredible woman who went undercover as a patient into a “madhouse” for ten days so she could find out how patients were being treated. She exposed the abuse that she witnessed in a six-part newspaper series titled, Ten Days In A Mad-House. To read more, click here.
A few years later in grade twelve, I read All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. These two journalists changed history by investigating Watergate. Their story changed the course of US history. It was their investigative reporting that in part forced Richard Nixon’s resignation as US president. I was hooked. I knew that’s what I wanted to do—write stories that made the world a better place. (Full disclosure? This wasn’t the only motivating factor but it was a huge part of it.)
Maybe that’s why my failure to obtain a journalism degree was so devastating. Many years later, I concluded that journalists don’t own this superpower. Stories—whether they’re news articles, biographies, documentaries, novels—all have a unique power to transform the reader. They grab our imaginations and call us to action. Reading another’s viewpoint, can change our perspective and make us more aware. We grow in so many ways. Stories give us hope that things can change.
Deep down, that’s what kept me writing even after all the no’s. I didn’t give up but many times I wanted to. When opportunites came, I took them. I wrote newsletters, and a few articles for obscure publications. Finally, I just decided to write the books I wanted to read. It took a long time to get here. There have been many people cheering me on. I wouldn’t be here without them. (That’s another post entirely.)
And that’s how I became a writer.