I've been writing since before I started kindergarten. My mother was of the stay-at-home variety until I started school, and her days began and ended with my education. She taught me to read at a very early age by using flashcards she made from cutting up children's books, and together we built stories that fanned across the living room floor, down the hall, and into the bedroom. In those days, every story was worth a sticker and a hug, and if I mixed tenses, Mom gently switched cards and explained what I'd gotten wrong and why.
Wouldn't it be great if writing was always that easy?
These days, the process is far more arduous. I try to let an idea kick around in my head for a few days before I put anything down on screen or paper... unless it's one of those killer ideas that screams "WRITE ME NOW! WRITE ME NOW!" until I cry with submission and race for my computer. I do this because I've learned that even the best ideas often need to marinate for a while before I even try a first draft, and my thoughts are scattered and nonlinear. In order to be a better writer, I've had to learn discipline.
I didn't just pluck that discipline from the ether, however; it came in the form of hard lumps from editors. I first started submitted (excruciatingly bad) poetry to magazines when I was fifteen. Poetry like this, which is the first stanza of a poem I wrote when I was fourteen called "Seasong."
You were walking on the beach last night,
the sand cool, the full moon glistening,
polishing the crest of each wave crashing,
thrashing lonely swimmers.
Ouch. But I was convinced, of course, that I could not possibly produce anything that wasn't absolute genius, and so off it went, tucked with other poems into envelopes bound for Poetry magazine and Ploughshares. I had high expectations and a loose grip on reality.
But I learned something — well, several somethings, since one of them is that I am not a poet. I learned that to be a writer is to have a very thick skin. Writers cannot wear their hearts on their sleeves; they must be tucked away, kept safe until it is time to create, and then we can let the emotions flow. When it comes to honing (and selling!) our work, we must be like any other businesspeople — serious, focused, and objective.