The Early Days
Writing was always a hobby of mine. Everyone has a hobby when they are children. Some people paint, some people draw, some people collect bugs or stones from their backyard. Not me. Nope. I was always the writer. One of my earliest recollections of my childhood was the day my parents painted my bedroom white.
Now picture this: I was four or five and my parents painted my entire room white. I thought it was paper. So I went to my room for a few hours, I choose my favorite crayons, I searched for the perfect spot to start, and then I scribbled out a story. And it was beautiful. It was probably filled with adventure and suspense because even at that young age I was a sucker for suspense (I personally blame that on my dad and his love of horror films). So, fast-forward a few hours and my masterpiece was complete. I rushed down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom and asked them to come to my room—I had something to show them.
When I showed them my story, I was so excited and I couldn’t figure out why they were so angry. Looking back on it, I can understand their anger. After all, the paint had just finished drying when I decided to write my “masterpiece”. But after that, my parents started buying me notebooks and I started writing my stories down there. Shortly after I started writing, I also developed a taste for drawing. Look at me, being all multitalented and everything, but in all fairness, my father and older sister were great artists as well. So, after I started drawing, I started to create posters and cover art for my stories. It all started off as little doodles here and there and then it turned into actual character sketches.
False Pretenses and other Disasters
I was in elementary school when I started “publishing” my work. I would go home and spend hours writing in my notebooks and drawing cover art and posters. Then I would staple my stories together with the artwork and bring it to class the next day. I would share the stories and artwork with my friends and eventually my teachers. One of my elementary teachers, Mrs. Martin, used to call me little Stephen King. I’m not comparing my work to his in any way but she saw similar themes. I was a horror junkie as a kid and my taste for horror eventually lead me to discover the action-filled world of science fiction and fantasy. Sci-fi and Fantasy became my preferred writing genres.
By the time I made it to middle school, I was firmly in the realm of fantasy and instead of having stapled pieces of paper; I had spiral notebooks I would share with my friends. The ring of sharing was getting smaller and smaller. Everyone knew I was a writer but only about 3 of my friends ever read my musings in middle school.
My eighth-grade year of middle school, I decided to write a book. Well, let’s say I loosely decided to write a book. Up until this point, all of my writing projects had been stand-alone short stories or serialized short stories. But in eighth grade, I had this wonderful idea and it was called False Pretenses. I know, the title was a bit presumptuous for a 13-year-old to come up with but it fit pretty well. It was a story that spanned centuries and talked about tyranny and corrupt governments before I could even truly understand what all that meant. It started with a girl named Sarah. She would soon learn that her new friends at her new school were not human. And they’d been sent to find her to bring her back to another realm that needed her help because she was a lost ruler that had once saved their world and through magic and reincarnation she was the only hope. The story had three different “Ladies of Sorrows” which is what they called her because she would only manifest in times of sorrow. The story talked about teenage problems but also world problems that at the time I was aware of but didn’t fully comprehend in the same fashion I do now. It was also the first time I knowingly wrote for a YA audience.
So I gave my two notebooks to one of my friends and she came back a week later telling me that it sucked. Not only did it suck, but she also fell asleep reading it to her little brother who later told her, he thought it needed more action. I was crushed. No one had ever said they had not enjoyed my writing before and I trusted her opinion because she was my friend. Therefore, I sat down and reread the story and to my amazement or dismay, however you want to look at it, I saw that she was right. It was boring. It lagged too much on the first act (even though at the time I did not know that was the real problem). In my 13-year-old mind, I thought the problem was that I spent too much time focusing on Sarah’s life as a human. I spent too much time in the human world and not enough time in the magical world that I was starting to develop.
During the summer before high school, I typed up the story and did a second draft, although, at the time, I didn’t know that’s what it was called either. I also didn’t know that my friend reading my work and giving me feedback was considered beta reading and that it was part of the editing process. So I added more pages and more depth, death, characters and feeling to the story and ended up with 50,000 words and carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, I ended up with a great story with many layers that could be expanded upon in later books. But that never happened because tragedy would strike when I least expected it to.
Trying To Get Published
Do you believe in cosmic warnings? The universe sending you messages? God intervening? Well if you do, you can take your pick because no matter what I did something always happened to prevent me from moving forward with False Pretenses. Let me back up and explain a little bit. During that summer I’d also read the Den of Shadows series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. She was 14 when the first book in that series, In the Forests of the Night, was published. She inspired me to try to become a published author.
So all throughout the summer, I revised False Pretenses and when I started high school that fall I continued to revise the novel. I made a new group of friends and they read my novel and gave me the praise I desired. I even tried to get my literature teacher to take a look at it. I don’t think he took it that seriously when I brought it up, but once he saw the size of the book he realized I was serious about writing. I don’t think he ever got around to reading it though, but he’s still one of my favorite teachers. Anyway, I said all of that just to prove that I was serious about submitting this book to a literary agent in hopes of getting it published by the time I was 15. But that never happened because “accidents” kept happening.
First, my sister drove over my flash drive that had the book on it and then the computer that I wrote the book on crashed. All of the files had to be erased in order for it to turn back on. And then one of the two physical copies I had disappeared. One of my friends that had read the book took it with her when she graduated and moved. So I was left with one copy of the book and when I tried to scan that copy onto a new computer, that computer also crashed. I took it as a sign that False Pretenses should never see the light of day. Ever.
I’m actually glad that I was never able the query an agent for False Pretenses because my life was determined to go another way. Throughout high school, I continued to write short stories and even attempted to write a sequel to False Pretenses titled Defying Serenity. That story was a prequel to False Pretenses. It was the story of the original “Lady of Sorrows” which was hinted at in the first book. But during my junior year in high school, I was given the opportunity to write for a newspaper.
The St. Louis Public School district participated in a program that allowed students to produce journalistic works and get their work published in newspapers. The entire system was run by students and aided by adults. My article was the only one from my school selected for publication. I still have the physical newspaper my article appeared in because I’m a collector. My article, Scoliosis in My Life, also won an award for being the most read article on the SciJourner website at the time (I don’t know if it still holds that record though.) The experience opened my eyes to a different form of writing and for the first time in my life, I considered being a journalist.
From Journalism to Screenwriting
By my senior year in high school, I had my sights set on journalism as my major for college. I applied to Saint Louis University and Webster University, looking at their journalism programs. I was accepted into both colleges but ended up going to Webster University. I was in the journalism program for a semester before switching to Scriptwriting. I hated the program. I was more excited about going to my German classes than I was about going to required classes for my major.
Scriptwriting at Webster University encompasses writing screenplays, stage-plays, teleplays, and radio scripts. During college, I had a few ideas for books but was unable to seriously write any of them because I was always busy working on other writing projects, classes, or actually working. But looking back at everything, I can honestly see how I’ve grown as a writer. All of these years of writing has helped me hone my skills and develop a specific “voice” for my writing. It’s given me the chance to learn how to market myself as a writer and provided me with the opportunity to have more work published over the years.
For example in my junior year in college, I was hired by my university to write a series of short films about sexual assault. I can’t link the produced version of the films because Webster University owns the rights to them and that’s alright with me because I was paid for my writing. Having work that was paid for and produced has made me an official screenwriter before I even graduated. Mission accomplished.
I wrote this post to show how writing has shaped my life but more importantly how life can shape your writing. Had I not had each of these key events happen to me, I probably wouldn’t even be writing this blog, let alone be interested in becoming a published author and a successful screenwriter. Big life decisions can come from the smallest of things. My entire writing career started with four blank walls and some crayons. What is your writing story?
2 thoughts on “Short Stories, Novels and Screenplays: How I Became A Writer”
I love it, cousin.