Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Did I Become a Writer?

I decided to write my first story when I was five or six years old. I borrowed a pencil and a piece of paper from my mother and asked her what I should write my story about.
“Write about what you know about,” she advised me.
So I did. The story came out something like this: “Johnny and his mother went to the circus. They saw clowns. They had fun. They came home. The end.”
My mother was proud of me. (Of course. That’s what mothers are for.) But when I showed my story to my brother, Neil, who was nine years older than I, he said, “It’s not a real story. A real story needs conflict.”
That put me in a quandary. At the age of six, I had no conflict in my life, so I couldn’t write a real story if I were to write about what I knew about. That put my writing career off for another ten years or so.
Then I started reading the novels of Richard Bissell, and I thought to myself: I can do this. I tried it, and I found I was right: I could do this. By that time I was a teenager, so of course there was conflict in the life I knew so well; it goes with the territory.
I haven’t turned back since. I haven’t supported myself with my writing (not many writers do), but I’ve never stopped writing, and in the meantime I’ve worked in the written word: as a student, a reader, a bookseller, an editor, a ghostwriter, a fiction writer, a publisher, and a teacher of creative writing.
I owe it to my mother, my brother, and mainly to other writers.


  1. Every word you write is itself an adventure: what's coming next? when is my next chuckle? why aren't you a NY Times bestselling author at the least, or for my money, and money was involved but so well spent, one of the cleverest, most intelligent, competent editors around.
    SO, my friend, I admit to writing at an early age as well. I was a wallpaper writer. When I was naughty and sent to my room, rare occasions as they were, especially when compared with my kid brothers' numbers, I would sulk, and show her, (the punisher/mother) and with a sharpened pencil point write the tiniest letters some of the curse words I'd overheard, my cryptographs hidden like in the movie National Treasures, undiscovered in the tiny petals of the flowers rising in the vertical stripes of my bedroom wallpaper. My sweet mother learned of this six decades later as I confessed to it before 110 dear folks in the audience at my first book signing event !

  2. Madelyn, your childhood bedroom walls should be enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution as one of our great, important literary treasures.