I recently read an article in which the author stated that the exceptional writers are those who knew from childhood that they wanted to write. How did they know that?
When I was a child, I did not think about what I wanted to be; I just wanted to play and have fun. My sister and I wrote all sorts of stories about Skunk and Mole, about Mountain Horse (the trio), and, of course, about Rhino. But that wasn’t writing–that was fun. If I practiced anything when I was young that was indicative of my career as an adult, it was playing. I wanted to be a player.
I always received top grades in writing throughout elementary and high school, but I thought it was because I was a good student. Whether it was for English, French, history, or sociology, I always did well on writing assignments. In my senior year in high school, my English teacher submitted a story I wrote to a magazine that published student work. My story was published, but I never got a copy of the magazine. I was too busy doing other things (playing) to bother. Besides, I thought the reason my story got published was because An Authority–an English teacher–submitted it.
I did not realize I could write until I was in college. In college, I was a Liberal Studies major and took courses in the humanities. Again, I earned top grades in writing but did not think I was a writer. Once my philosophy professor told me how surprised he was reading one of my papers. He said I had such a sunny disposition, he didn’t think I could think deeply. Comments like that did not inspire me to write or to think of myself as a writer.
Then one day, I went to an English professor for help with a rough draft of an essay. He read my paper and marked it with an “A”. He told me I could make further revisions if I wanted to but the grade would remain the same. He said I was a gifted writer. I left his office relieved that I was done with that assignment and pleased that he thought I could write. That was the first time I thought of myself as a writer.
The following semester was terrible; I was in an upper division writing class with another English professor who happened to be a misogynist. He gave me an Incomplete for my final grade. When I called him to find out why, he said he could not tell me over the phone; I had to come to his office. I was not at all keen on going to see him, but I needed to know why the Incomplete grade. It turned out that I had no missing assignments; he told me he was going to give me a “B” in the class. He had only given me an Incomplete in order to get me into his office where he could tell me how much I reminded him of a “significant other.” I changed my major to mathematics.
Mathematics was great because it was so challenging (and the professors were so objective and rational.) I loved teaching mathematics because it, too, was challenging, but, more than that, it was playing.
I still love mathematics because it is challenging and engaging. But what is most interesting to me is that mathematics brought me back to writing and story telling. Mathematics put the element of play back into writing. I find that strange but very satisfying.
I still do not think of myself as a writer; I am an observer who writes. And in doing so, I am fulfilling my childhood dream of playing. I write because it’s fun.