I’ve always loved reading and telling stories, but not everyone who reads or tells stories becomes a writer. I’ve recently found myself trying to piece together how it all started. I could point to many teachers who have shaped my writing, especially since I enrolled at the University of Iowa, but none of them were around to get me on the road to being a writer in the first place. For that, I have my parents to thank.
My parents kept our house full of books and they often sat and read with my siblings and me when we were little. However, there are people who grow up in houses full of books who don’t grow up with reading and writing as their favorite things (my brother is one of them). My love of stories came from inside me. I can’t remember anyone ever teaching me to narrate the adventures of my toys in the dollhouse, it was just a fun thing that I did on my own. I have two major childhood memories of things my parents did for me that, I believe, set me on the path to becoming not just a story-lover, but a writer.
One morning, while I stood at the front door, waiting for the bus to come and take me to kindergarten, my dad sat down next to me and started to ask me questions about the story that I’d narrated with the toys before breakfast. Who were the characters? What were they doing? I answered his questions and he made notes on a piece of paper. When I got home that day, he presented me with a typed sheet of paper. On it was the story that I’d told him, all official and in print. I still get excited thinking about that day. It was the day that my Dad showed me that the stories that I casually made up for my toys were worth hearing, they could be written down and read. People would be interested in them, just like how people were interested in "Harry Potter" and "The Berenstein Bears." After that, I started to write my stories down and I told them to other people more often.
My mom provided the other big contribution to making me a writer, but because the memories of those moments are much less fun, it’s taken me years to realize how important they were. In elementary school, there was a competition called “Young Authors.” I wrote little books for that contest every year. Mom was the one who told me that my stories didn’t make sense and that I needed to edit. I would kick, scream, and insist that my stories were fine just the way that they were, but she wouldn’t back down or give up. She would stick with me until I had improved my work. In doing so, Mom showed me that my stories were worth putting effort into and that I could and should improve my craft. Even though I never won the Young Authors contest, I know that that was when my writing really started to improve. I learned to self-critique and to put my writing in other people’s hands not just for praise, but for constructive criticism.
To this day, my parents are still my cheerleaders and my editors. I’d probably still love stories without their influence, but I know that I wouldn’t be the writer who I am today. I’m heading towards a future in which writing is the main thing that I do with my life and, while telling fun little stories to my toys was a good starting point, I couldn’t have made it this far on fun alone.