Before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be an architect. Before the architect, I wanted to be astronaut. The astronaut dream was preceded by Teacher, Lawyer, Rogue (from X-Men) and Disney Princess.
Like many writers, I have binders full of trunk novels – half-finished stories about kids and teenagers in really weird situations (when we do our trunk novel segments in a few weeks, you’ll totally understand why I call them “weird”). I wrote dozens of short stories and attempted* to write a full-length scifi novel when I was in middle school.
But even with all of those stories, writing as a career choice didn’t occur to me until I was a senior in high school. I am not joking – I actually applied to a few schools to study Architecture. And then one fateful day, I went to my Creative Writing class and had a completely mind-blowing experience.
The teacher gathered our homework and then asked if we’d had fun doing it. I’d written an epic poem about the “true” backstory and epilogue of The Highwayman. I told my teacher that yes, yes I had fun writing the poem. I had a funny feeling inside, like I’d just missed my exit on the highway and would have to go thirty miles out of my way to get back on track. I just wasn’t sure what the feeling meant.
I went home and had a serious come-to-your-senses moment. I went to my parents’ library and stared at the books. I thought of all the birthday parties I took books to in case I got bored (true story). I thought about all the times I’d convinced teachers to let me write longer, more creative essays. Then I stood in front of some of my favorite books: The Nancy Drew mysteries, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Pride and Prejudice.
Suddenly I felt like such an idiot. Of course I had to be a writer. It made so much sense. I didn’t want to be an architect. I wanted to write stories and make people laugh and cry and feel ridiculous because of a few characters I’d written into existence. I made a decision that day to skip the architecture and head into fiction.
This is what reading does to people – it’s something you’ll hear us talk about on this week’s episode. We don’t just love Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien because they were geniuses. We love them because they showed us that our dreams, no matter how gigantic or enormous, are just a decision away.
Michelle really did bring books to birthday parties when she was a kid, and fondly referred to the practice as "drama avoidance". Today she listens to books on tape with near-religious fervor, but generally not during birthday parties.
*"Attempted" as in, I had NO IDEA what plot was supposed to be, and I was REALLY melodramatic, and honestly I spent most of my time drawing my characters and writing the same three scenes over and over again.