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Number 52

Today’s piece is written by Natasha Costa, a reformed reporter.

One of the first clear memories I have is of reading.

When I was about two years old I went through that “why?” phase that so many children have, and my parents always, without fail, pulled out the encyclopedia set they’d spent so much money on and had me sound out what I was asking about.It was all very exciting back then; first came the ABC song and then learning how to string letters together.  I would ask a why and my parents would help me sound out what I was looking for and then sit me in front of that set of encyclopedias and I would pour through them for hours.  I would get distracted; when you start out looking for milk and then see an entry on mammary glands it tends to happen. From there you go to nipples and uterus and sexual reproduction (I knew where babies came from long before my parents ever had The Talk with me. Thank you, encyclopedia set).

It’s a small step to go from reading to writing.  I remember being very young – maybe five or six – and being given a new notebook for school.  Instead of taking it to school like I was supposed to, I filled those pages with painstakingly etched words with my pencil.  They weren’t so much stories back then; more like me stretching my writers wings.  I tested sentences out, and before long I realized I could string together those sentences into one cohesive paragraph. 

I still didn’t make the connection between writing those sentences and paragraphs with story creation.  I was too busy reading books to think of writing my own; I started with the encyclopedias and went on to the very popular Goosbumps books, and from there the Baby Sitter’s Club.  Eventually children’s literature bored me; it was at this point that I began giving my teachers regular heart attacks because I was bringing books to school like Stephen King’s It, and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill.  I was in third grade at this point.  My born-again Christian aunt swore I was the child of the Devil when she caught me with a copy of Carrie.

Fourth grade brought with it promise; I learned double-digit multiplication, and more importantly, I was introduced to the idea of writing stories of my own. 

My fourth grade teacher wanted us to write something.  A short story, she said.  I’d done those assigned essays before, of course, but I had never once thought that actual stories were within my own grasp.  That was something other people did. 

Suddenly a whole huge world was open to me.  When the short story was finished, she said, she would actually get one of the students’ parents to help bind little books together, using art we had actually made for the cover (laminated, on tabloid-sized sheets of paper.  I still have mine, incidentally).  I threw myself to the project with gusto and I unintentionally recreated several scenes from Firestarter, one of the few Stephen King books I had not read at that point.  I severely disturbed my teacher, but I was hooked.  That little machine-sewn set of papers with my words and drawings on it gave me something of a jump-start, and from then on my parents had a hard time getting me to stop writing long enough to do my schoolwork. 

Being ten years old and rather unimaginative, I started writing fanfiction.  I did not know that it was called that back then, of course, but I wrote to fandoms at a frantic pace bordering on obsession – particularly Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and anything involving Star Trek.  I never told anyone I was writing, and at one point I was so ashamed of the stories that I burned all of my notebooks and buried the ashes in our back yard. 

It wasn’t until I got to high school that I found a friend who also liked to write as much as I did, and we started comparing notes.  He told me I had talent; it was the first words of encouragement I’d ever had in the writing realm, and it was as addictive as heroin.  Not that I believed him, of course!  No, no, good writing, in my mind, was beyond my reach.  The trick was to make whoever was reading your stuff think you were good.  It didn’t occur to me then that that is exactly what the majority of good writers do in real life.

I was still writing fanfiction then.  My friend asked me to read one of his original stories and it was just like I was back in fourth grade all over again – I could write something completely original?  You’ve gotta be shitting me! 

That was nine years ago.  I still write fanfiction, and I still write original fiction, and I still cling to the hope that some day I’ll be able to make a good living at this.  For a while I wrote for a newspaper and it brought a glow to my face – I was living something of a dream, having people read my words and laugh at all the right moments.  Even better that I was getting money for it.  Holy shit – money, just for writing!

But see, now that I’ve had a taste of it, of what it’s like to really do it, I want more.  And so every day, I get on my laptop and I stare at the screen and I write, for as long as I can bear to.  It doesn’t matter what I write – fanfiction, original fiction, poetry, essays, anything, so long as I am producing written work.  And some day, I’ll get back there again. 

So for me, it’s a toss-up.  I write because I love to read my words on paper, just like I love reading others’ words on paper.  I also write because of the hope.  I guess it’s sort of like why rednecks buy lottery tickets, or why people pray – it’s that hope.  The hope that something amazing will happen to you, something life-altering.  Whatever it is, we know that we’ll never be the same after it happens.

Why do I write?  You might as well ask me why do I have hopes, or dreams?  Why do I breathe?  The answer is very clear – I write because I am human. 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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