I wrote my first novel at seven. It was a tragic coming-of-age story about a girl and her horse. At five single spaced pages sprinkled with errors, it was probably the world’s shortest and underdeveloped novel, but I was damn proud of it.
At eight I wrote my first comic. It was called The Adventures of Super Baby. Oddly enough, this was before Dav Pilkey created The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby (Obviously I was on to something). I sold the homemade copies on my front lawn for a nickle apiece.
At nine, I created my first magazine. It was a tabloid inspired zine featuring the kids of my school. I brought the zine to class and showed all my friends, who praised my hard-hitting journalism. I was so proud until the teacher scolded me for bringing in such an “insulting art project”. I don’t remember what was so inappropriate, but I do remember my spirit was broken and I never wrote after that.
When I first attended college, I studied jazz performance and music business. I thrived on the idea of forever being a creative individual and loved spending every waking hour glued to my cello. Performance was my escape. It was accelerating and fun, until one day it wasn’t.
I dreaded my lessons but told myself it was what I wanted. Eventually the stress of music became too much and seeking guidance, I expressed my distress with a teacher. He asked why I had decided to study music in the first place. I said because it was my first love. It was the first creative outlet I explored and the only way I knew how to express myself.
He eyed me unconvinced. “Are you sure?”
Aside from music, I was also taking a writing intensive course as a college requirement. Our final assignment was a personal narrative relating to a larger topic. I wrote about my interracial relationship and racism in America. On the last day of class we were asked to break into groups, read our essays aloud and worked on final edits before handing them in.
I had never read my work out loud before, and having written on such a personal topic, I didn’t want to. When I began to read, my voice shook as my head hung over the pages. I felt like I was dying with every passing word. As I finished the final sentence I looked up expecting smirks and looks of disgust, but instead I was met with expressions of sheer enjoyment and praise.
“I loved it!”
“It was like listening to a tortured romance novel!”
“Why aren’t you a writing major?!”
Clearly these kids were just trying to be nice. I wan’t good at writing. I didn’t know how to write. I’d never written before. Why are they smiling at me?
FAST FORWARD SOME MORE…
When the semester ended I traveled back to Wisconsin to spend the holidays with my family. I was cleaning out my room at my dad’s house when I found my first journal dated from 1998. The first words on the first page, written with the confidence only a six year old could have: “I am going to be a writer”.
Those words from my six-year-old self were the only encouragement I need. I started my next semester as a journalism major.
As adults we sometimes laugh at kids when they enthusiastically share their dreams. We brush off their young ambitious as a phase, something they’ll grow out of.
“Sure honey, you can grow up to be a ballerina. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Then somewhere along the way as children grow into adults themselves, they become surrounded by discouragement.
“Are you sure you want to paint? Artists are called starving for a reason.”
Suddenly they find themselves in college or at their first job, hating what they’re doing. They try not to let it bother them because it is what society told them to do.
“Of course you hate working. No one actually likes their job.”
But what if that first dream wasn’t just a phase? What would happen if it was encouragement that embraced us? What if people loved their work? Maybe our younger selves had the right idea.
The next time a child tells you they want to be a singer, or a doctor, or the president, don’t laugh and dismiss them with a pat on the head. We remember the first time someone tells us we can’t. Be the first person to tell someone they can.
You might save a little girl from forcing herself to be a musician when all along she was born to write.