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  • Erica Darnell

How Authors are Born

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Erica Darnell dandelion

I can say with certainty that my learniest middle school experiences didn't happen in the classroom. Most of what I carry, I learned in the hallways, mistakes made, and books I devoured. Obviously these were not school books, although one required reading, Where the Red Fern Grows, does get honorable mention in my mind's catalog. Besides learning that books can indeed cause intense face leakage, I also learned these street smarts:

1. I didn't want to get pregnant and have a baby in Middle School. I saw it happen, it was weird, I shan't forget it.

2. Don't stick your face too close to the snake cage. Our science teacher's son did this and the snake bit his eye. Yes--his eye.

3. Don't invite yourself to a hallway soccer game. Despite the use of public property, the invitation is, in fact, not public. If you hop in for jollies, apparently there is a rule that you must be beaten with the ball until your glasses break. Then you have to feel your way down the hallway, cradling your spectacles in your hand, wondering how you're going to explain to your parents that you really don't understand why you got beat up.

But I digress. Although at the time I didn't know it, I carried one thing with me from a classroom though the rest of my life. In the spirit of keeping things in threes and keeping these particular school years of my life out of the deplorable category, here's what made the list:

1. My science teacher torched a Dorito, leaving behind a crusty black mummy chip covered in jiggly fats that the fire couldn't burn away. I didn't eat chips for weeks. Fat is in chips?? Ew.

2. I hate math. Loathe. Detest. Wish it had never been born. Fractions especially. My list of different facets of math that I abhor grew exponentially (math term meaning "a whole lot") in high school.

3. I can become an author if I want to.

Ah, yes. Finally we arrive at the birth of the wee author in me. Interesting fact: math class delivered this revelation to me--I suppose proving that I did learn something there. I cannot claim full responsibility for this epiphany moment in my life, although I did have the propensity to let my mind wander. Career day planted the seed for me.

The school invited different professionals to come and discuss their careers. I have to be completely honest, I don't remember any of the other presenters. We shuffled from classroom to classroom listening to the (apparently unremarkable) presentations. Math class was the last presentation of the day. I don't know why I had such an inclination to listen, perhaps because of my elation that I didn't have to look at any numbers.

A woman stood at the front of the class holding a book in her hands. She had me at "Hello, this is my book." She began to describe the journey writing can take you on. The research, the traveling, the weaving of a perfect plot to captivate your audience. She talked about her passion for the story on the pages bound together in her hands. It was the first time that writing and story-telling clicked into the same category for me. I love a good story, who doesn't? I walked out of that classroom certain that one day I wanted to become an author.

I wanted to weave stories that enthralled readers. I wanted to grab their attention with characters they could fall in love with. I wanted them to enjoy reading as much as I did. Of course this tiny seed that was planted many years ago didn't spring into fruition until recently. Instead of writing, I pursued a career as an interpreter (which technically requires a reader's voice.)

Why didn't I pursue that passion for story-telling as a career? I think this is a lesson Amos can teach best. My husband is a raving weather lunatic. If something is happening in the atmosphere, he knows about it. He follows meteorologists, blogs with cloud nerds, and checks out the Farmer's Almanac website for kicks. He loves the weather so much, that I always wondered why he never pursued it as a career. He says he is afraid that making it his job would steal the joy from his hobby.

I don't think I've understood that better than now. I never really stopped writing after my school years. I wrote for kicks and the sheer enjoyment of story-telling. I composed fun stories for my sister via email almost every day to distract her from the drudgery of her work. I kept up with reading fun books and admiring writers with the ability to keep me up til midnight with a book light in bed. But I don't think the traditional classroom approach would have worked out for me. I never liked being told what to write. I love generating my own ideas and using the spark inside me to propel them onto a page. I hope one day it is a page in a book that you turn, eager to find out what happens next. This isn't a career for me, it's a passion.

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