The first writer I had any passing knowledge of was Richard Scarry. I loved his coyly, subtly named "Best Story Book Ever". I was 3, and agreed wholeheartedly. The first writer to whom I had long-term exposure was John Boy on the Waltons. He was always shutting himself in his room to write stories and was treated like some wise baby bird by the rest of Walton's Mountain. For years--decades, really--I thought I couldn't be a writer because of John Boy. While I did spend most of my childhood off by myself making up stories, I seldom wrote them down. And as much as I loved reading and making up stories, if anyone ever gave me a bundle of paper and a packet of pencils as my only Christmas present I would have had a hard time being grateful. I liked books and stories, but I also liked dolls and Weebles and Steve Taylor albums. Besides which, my suburban family wasn't really all that colorful. We only had four children and no cows and no lumber yard. Between The Waltons and Little House On The Prairie, I was brought up thinking that you had to be poor and have a dad who worked in a lumber yard if you wanted to be a writer.
The first time I read Little Women I was eight years old. I could see myself very easily as Jo...my middle name is even Joan (pronounced Joe- Ann). I tried to get my family to call me 'Jo' but that didn't last five minutes. The rest of them are as stubborn as I. I figured out that a garrett was the same thing as an attic, and started to get that between Jo and John Boy, having a little room to write in was somehow important. Our attic could only be reached by a rickety ladder in the garage so you had to have dad back out the car to get up there. Besides which, I was eight, and afraid of heights. So I cleared out a space under the basement stairs to be my "garrett". There was poor lighting and a musty smell. I didn't feel inspired to write, but I did concoct a mental fear of the ghost I just knew was living in my dad's workshop so I quickly abandoned my garrett. It was probably not a good idea to come up with such a writing nook when I was also breezing through Nancy Drews by the dozen. (Years later when I first read Harry Potter I felt an immediate kinship for the boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs.)
In fifth grade I read Anne Frank's diary for the first time, and realized that writing about one's own life could be interesting. Unfortunately, writing about crushes on tv stars is far less enthralling than chronicaling one's hiding from Nazis, so I gave that up. But between Anne and Judy Blume, I felt that all good writers were Jewish. Since I was only half-Jewish (or so I was led to believe) that let me further out of the running. No Jews, no Nazis, no poverty and no lumber yard. How could I call myself a writer?
By college, I realized I couldn't be a writer because I had no drug addictions, no lesbian love triangles and no boozy exile to France. Since college I've been employed in the most varied series of jobs imaginable. Yet I always end up writing. I've either been the girl who writes all the letters that need to make an impression, the woman who writes all the copy for the brochures, the secretary who also writes all the press releases. Two years ago I wrote two little (and I mean LITTLE) books that were published as companion pieces to games we sold in Wal-Mart. The only way we could get the games into the stores was to have them accompanied by some type of book, as the game were being sold through that division. So I was finally published. If you can call two 80-page books about the poker and bunko 'published'.
About a year ago I realized something. I've spent 30 years telling myself reasons that I couldn't be an actual writer. But the whole time I've been experiencing life through a writer's eyes. And I've been writing. Then I realized. Being a writer is something you become or do. It is something you Are. Every writer's path is different. If they weren't, all books and stories would be the same and at the same time be nothing. Indistinguishable. So after 35 years of living I feel fully qualified to say
I am a writer.
I just AM.
Now if I could just convert our attic space....