It’s approaching twenty-one years, and I can still remember the first person to tell me I had the gift of writing.
Or, some semblance of that gift.
I had just entered the seventh grade. I attended a school that included grades K-12 and there was the intense excitement of graduating middle school and crossing the grand center of the building to the high school side with the big kids.
Naturally, my focus was on finding my place in junior high (even though I’d been attending school with the same classmates and friends since Headstart) and learning who I was and could be as popularity and other superficial things became all the rage.
While I was a highly intelligent child, I can admit that I was not a studious child and I did not enjoy school to the point that I actively gravitated towards the subjects that I excelled at. Math, I hated it and had no problem making it known. Made passable grades and kept it moving. I enjoyed science classes (once I got to high school), the different history classes, and I even showed a tiny bit of skill when I got around to taking art classes a few years later. There was foreign languages, French which I had always felt was a requirement for Louisiana due to it originally being a French colony. And Spanish when online classes became implemented towards my final years of high school. I even took band and played two instruments for about three or four years.
And then there was English. Entering seventh grade, it wasn’t my passion subject but I had proven to be an accelerated reader and I could write papers two grade levels higher. Nothing special in my books, but apparently it had been discussed when deciding which of the English teachers classrooms I would be sorted into. Classes were quite large then and English and Math were always split into two.
I was sorted into the male English teacher’s class, and almost immediately he insisted on us writing daily journals. Some days there would be a specific topic written on the board, and some days we could freestyle. Typically we would have to do three paragraphs at most, easy. And on rare occassions, we’d have to fill an entire page.
What did I always do? Two to three pages, because writing seemed to come with ease and I found that more enjoyable than actually speaking my thoughts. (I also learned quickly that the more we wrote, the less chance we had of getting called on to read out loud.)
With those daily journals, we had to turn them in for a grade at the end of every week. My thought had always been as long as we can spell and the grammar is decent, we can’t get too bad of a grade.
WRONG. Fortunately for me, it seemed I had a knack for writing and he came to enjoy most of what I had to say in my journal. He made it a point to reach out to the other seventh grade English teacher, a sweet woman that called me into her room for a sit down.
I thought I was in trouble, but she simply stated that I had a wonderful way with words and a talent worth exploring. I thanked her and thought nothing more of it. Kept doing my daily journals and assigned written projects for the rest of the year.
The following school year, I ended up in the class of that female English teacher, as she’d moved on to teach both seventh and eight grade. We had been introduced to poetry, but she took it to the next level by insisting that we write them as well as read.
Let me just say; I was horrified.
Yes, me; the same child that had gotten together with four or five other classmates in the seventh grade and wrote an ENTIRE stage play (that we were not allowed to put on because it was ‘too real’) was terrified to write poetry.
Just like with my feeling of song-writing today, I felt I didn’t have the talent or skill for that. My teacher thought otherwise and with every poetry project she returned with a grade, there would be a note in the back of my folder with encouraging words and guidance and gentle tips on how to improve.
I had been writing little things since I was ten, but those two years really gave me the spark and nudge to head towards a dream I hadn’t even considered.
I honestly thought back then that I would grow up to be a nurse or secretary of some sort.
From that moment on, I began writing all the time. Became a notebook addict, of sorts, filling HUNDREDS of notebooks from page to page with poetry and letters, short stories and notes for all of the novels that I wanted to write someday.
The funny thing about novel writing though, and having that dream; I wasn’t made aware that was an attainable dream for someone like me until I was about fourteen years old. Yes, I knew there were black authors, but I couldn’t write like them. Not the type of complex and universal stories they told.
Then, my aunt Stella gave me this novel. Naturally, I’m thinking to myself that I am entirely too young to be reading something of that nature. But it was by a black author. And it was a style that I felt someone would say my writing fit (based solely off my looks and where I came from/where I was going to school. Either country or urban/hood.)
The book was TOO grown for my fourteen year old eyes, but I was HOOKED. And in my mind, the author became my literary father. I had to read more by him, and find books by authors like him. I dove head first into Eric Jerome Dickey, Zane, Michael Baisden, E. Lynn Harris, Wahida Clarke, etc.
I was AMAZED and inspired, so much so that the summer before my fifteenth birthday, I spent that entire summer writing SEVEN full novels, all in the style of novels that I had been reading.
And, as I moved on to my freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school, there came the required reading for English classes. I hated them ALL because I couldn’t related. Thankfully, by then came my greatest English teacher of all. While she would allow us to read side books when our work was completed, she didn’t particularly care that my friends and I leaned towards the more inappropriate books.
Black authors, awesome; ‘but lets try a few with a greater reach and impact’. She began to tailor a few of the required reads. Then came Octavia Butler, Gloria Naylor, Ernest Gaines, and many others I had neglected in previous years because I hadn’t considered that OUR (black) stories could be told in ways that did humanize us outside of typical struggles and stereotypes.
I dove headfirst again, spending about two or three summers in a row reading over 200 books each (including the dreaded required reading of American classics).
Reading became my thing and with reading so much, by the time I was seventeen my writing had improved SO MUCH. By seventeen, I knew AUTHOR would be somewhere in any and every description below my name, wherever my name would be seen in the future.
I’ve never been sure if Mrs. Love knew just how great of a mentor she was, without trying to be, but she’s the very reason I hold such a high standard of my own work because she took that same talent that had been pointed out just a few years before and nurtured it.
She recognized, just as I finally had, that I could go somewhere and do great things with words so long as I cared about what I was writing and preparing to put into the world. She told me that just like the authors she introduced us to, I too could have some impact and reach. And I believed her, because she taught and led with love and honesty. BRUTAL Honesty that is sometimes needed for those of us that choose careers within any form of the arts. She told me, at the end of my senior year, that I would go on to one day be one of her students that does great things with God given talent, and more recently that she’s still rooting for me.
Those words have meant and will always mean everything to me.
Of course, in life, sometimes things don’t go as we plan. Outside of English, high school got a bit rough and two incidents surrounding my eventual graduation left a HORRIBLE taste for school in my mouth.
My plan had been to go to Michigan State or any school outside of Louisiana with a great writing program. Second plan, when considering the little detail of money, was to go to school in-state for journalism and work at one of our popular news station.
I was eighteen/nineteen and completely disenchanted with the thought of continuing school. I gathered up what little nerve I had and talked with my dad and let him know that, though it was his plan for me, college was no longer in my books.
‘What are you going to do?’
WRITE. That was the first thing that came to mind, but I had to be practical as well, right? I didn’t know anyone personally that made good money from writing. And while he wasn’t against me following my dreams, I had to be practical.
By then I had already had a job before, and I was currently working every teenagers first ‘dead-end’ job. Fast food. Writing was not a plausible goal when I could coast on his dime and go to college.
Did not want to do that, did not want to hear a thing about school and school-adjacent bullshit.
I asked my dad to give me a year to publish something. Should have been simple, right? I had been writing since I was ten years old, had been serious about it since I was fourteen, he had just gotten me a laptop for Christmas and I had been putting that baby to work! Not to mention, there was material completed that probably just needed some intense editing, right?
Those seven amazing novels I wrote at fourteen? Lost them all when a desktop I’d won at school crashed on me and I’d forgotten to save them on something else once we began drifting away from floppy disks.
Life was going awry. By the time I’d gotten to this agreement with my father, even with the hope instilled in me by my teacher, family support, and writing still being my biggest dream, I was about a year into what would become a decade plus long battle with self-doubt and depression, among other things.
I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to what gave me that first spark. POETRY.
Of course, because of that old self-doubt, I did not embark on and complete my first journey into publishing until I was twenty-two. That time between nineteen and self-publishing my first poetry collection, I had shared some things on tumblr, shared some things on my facebook when I first joined. I discovered Wattpad and had become kind of big on there with my urban novels. Had attempted to have a full college series (novels) published and had the first novel stolen so that fiasco took another chunk of my self-esteem. Grew a little personally, stopped reading, fell in love with different genres of movies and music that inspired my work and eventually led to me jumping out of the urban box. Lost many of my readers because they only wanted the urban stuff and that took another chunk of my confidence.
While I’ve continued my writing journey on and off, the past few years have been particularly difficult and as I end this with where I am now (thirty and still hiding my official debut novel out of fear of failure), I’m hesitant to say what will happen or what I will do. It’s only been since starting MyPenWritesNice.com in January of 2017 that I’ve slowly been rebuilding the confidence I allowed the world around me to chip away. I’m allowing myself to take the next steps of my journey one day at a time because if I don’t, I get in my own head and I give up. I’m tired of giving up when I have so much to offer, and such a wonderful gift to share. So many have touched my life and inspired me in so many ways, and I still want to do the same for many others. I can only pray that 2021 is the year I give myself the credit I’ve been denying myself.
I pray 2021 is the year I let go of my fears and just do the damn thing my own way. I’m an amazing writer, I know I am. And I can only hope that those of you who have dropped in on MyPenWritesNice have enjoyed the things I’ve shared sporadically.
I hope that this entire piece wasn’t all over the place. I tend to ramble when I talk in real life (and thank God you can’t stutter when you type), my thoughts are usually all over the place when they aren’t being channeled to a specific story I’m writing.
Thank you so much Stephanie for the idea to talk about my writing journey. It’s a bit short and not as exciting but reflecting on the good moments has definitely given me more of my confidence back and excitement for what will eventually come for the site.
I want to wish you all a very happy and blessed new year!
Happy reading and happy writing!