The earliest I remember attempting to write an original story of my own was in the third grade. My mom worked for the government and she had a laptop they provided her, which she in turn, allowed me to use. I never quite finished any of the stories that I wrote because my stories kept going and never had an ending, but would it surprise you that as a kid, I typed a 50+ page single-spaced piece of fiction? It had chapter headings, indented paragraphs, fully formed sentences, and zero typos (nine-year-old me would have still kicked the crap out of some of these Chaffey students – I’m just saying).
I read a lot too. I was obsessed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and had read a handful of other children’s authors, though I do not remember most of them. I remember reading a handful of Beverly Cleary’s books (“None of your beeswax, Ramona!”). I also gobbled up video game magazines. Though all they seemed to do were make me desire all kinds of geeky things, they did a great job at helping me to develop a writing voice that I sustained through college and into my early professional life.
I didn’t really like myself as a kid. I used to write stories about the person I wished I was – confident, willing to speak up in class when I disagreed with the teacher, and not completely terrified of asking the girl I had a crush on out on a date. I lacked the life experience to write anything that really made sense, because my limited experience of going to school and coming home to play video games merged with the complete fantasy world of the books I was reading. I never showed anybody else my stories, and I’m pretty sure my parents weren’t even aware that I wrote them.
I still remember my favorite author from childhood – Lloyd Alexander. His Prydain Chronicles consisted of five books – each that I read more than once. Frankly, just writing these words brings me back to a place in my childhood where I realized that I possessed deep desires – to be an unlikely leader and a hero, to love romantically and unashamedly, to see good triumph over evil when the odds were stacked against the good. I must have been nine.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my taste for reading. I don’t remember in what order the following events took place, but they did: I got addicted to video games and stopped reading books, my parents got divorced, I started to act up in school, I took some tests in school that took the fun out of reading (I read a book from start to finish for enjoyment and got an F because I didn’t remember unimportant details that the computerized test decided were a measurement of my comprehension). Somewhere along the way, I lost my motivation to try in school in general.
In high school I was quite rebellious in every fashion you can think of (I actually wrote out a more descriptive paragraph and decided to delete it because I’m a little ashamed of the details). But the point is, I didn’t read for any reason except for school requirements, and if I had a way to shortcut the system, I did. I wrote what was required for school – which thankfully for my long-term future, was quite extensive (easily more than I was ever required to write in college).
In college, things changed a little bit. Mind you, I’d read, at most, three outside of required reading per year – but I started to become interested in books again. I’d go into a Barnes and Noble (before they were Nazis about limiting customers’ ability to sit down and read books in their store) and pick out books that interested me – mostly non-fiction books about being successful. I wrote very little during my college years. I’d been keeping sporadic journals since the time I was a teenager, but I never re-read anything I’ve written, and I did a very terrible job of keeping my writing intact. I’d write my thoughts in notebooks I’d eventually lose, on Word documents that vanished as soon as my computer tanked and I replaced it with a new one. It’s possible I had some good stuff in my old journals, but I’m not sure I really worry about that. I’ve still yet to write my most important pieces. I wrote a few love letters to the girl I dated during these years.
I found myself in a direct-sales company at age 18, which taught me a crap-ton of terrible habits and made me lust money insatiably for a few years, but I was left with a single, good idea: read every single day. Leaders are readers, they said. And in my greed to become a young multimillionaire, I started reading again, but mostly books that taught me skills to get ahead in my career. I rarely wasted time on reading for the purpose of enjoyment. In fact, I was afraid to read books for enjoyment because I might miss the tip that put me over the top. I wrote multiple lists of life goals, positive affirmations, action plans, notes from seminars. I continued to journal as an outlet, but again I’ve probably easily lost 95% of my pieces when my computers crashed or I moved to a different location and threw away my extra paperwork.
My 20s are an entire saga of their own… I was a workaholic, a borderline alcoholic, and I pretty much learned who I was by making a ton of mistakes in every area of my life. But for the purposes of this exercise, I did one thing right: I kept reading. Some of my sporadic journaling ended up online, but it’s only relatively recently that I started saving them to Google’s cloud and published some articles on WordPress. I also decided somewhere along the way that I would start writing and delivering speeches in public.
It’s only in the past couple years that I’ve started to regain interest in reading and writing creatively. I read an article recently that a man’s brain doesn’t mature fully until he is well into his 20s. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started to think of my long-term future, that I’ve started to see more than two weeks ahead, that I realized that career-success isn’t everything. Some of my favorite books from the past year are Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I really liked East of Eden by Steinbeck. Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five had me rollin’. I tried to enjoy Stephen King’s fiction, but I mainly enjoy his memoir and writing tips from On Writing. I still read my non-fiction, expository books, but I’ve branched out from my usual books on business and success thinking. I’ve read books about running, books on my faith, biographies of past world leaders, the Bible.
Recently, I’ve started taking classes at Chaffey College in newswriting and creative non-fiction. After stumbling into journalism accidentally (a story that I will not describe in this exercise), I’ve subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. I don’t have time to read everything, but I catch a few articles on a pretty regular basis outside of my formal studies (I’m including the non-creative non-fiction books I read with what little time I have between school and ministry).
I no longer separate reading and writing from living. My eyes are open. When I speak to people or encounter new situations, I am reading them and filing information into my brain. As I come to decisions in my own mind, I am constantly writing my story, a story of my experiences, a story about the values I hold dear. I write down stuff when I have the time, but the truth is, a LOT of my best ideas are forgotten because I don’t always carry a pen and paper with me.
I teach a Bible study, I blog inconsistently, I submit assignments to my professors at Chaffey, I write articles for the school newspaper, I still write and deliver speeches, I still journal sporadically and often on pieces of paper that get lost in piles somewhere in my house. I think there may be something to this writing gig that is part of my very being, but the truth is, I have no idea if I’ll continue to do this professionally or not.
What I do know is that in almost 20 years, in one respect, I haven’t changed all that much. I’m still the nine-year-old kid that has the same deep desires – and those haven’t changed one bit.