In seventh grade, I wrote a short story. It was a modern myth for an English class involving Hermes, a stolen trident, and a fight between Zeus and Poseidon. Granted, this alone proves that my story included the most cliche tropes and narratives of Greek mythology, but I thought it was fantastic, so bear with me.
It wasn’t the first story I had ever written. It wasn’t the first piece of writing I was praised for. It wasn’t even the piece that inspired me to want to write in the first place. But, it was the first that made me feel like a writer.
I wrote that story in about forty-five minutes, which, in retrospect, probably isn’t a good sign. I’m sure the semiotics weren’t good, if at all existent, and it was probably just barely impressive, but the quickness of writing it excited me. The words flowed in a way that hadn’t happened before, and I was proud of the resulting story. It felt natural and innate. That was the first time I can remember feeling that way about anything.
This short story was part of a group project for the English class which involved telling the story the group created in a performance in front of the class. I took it upon myself to write the whole thing if the rest of the group agreed to figure out how to present it and lead in doing so. After writing it, I brought it to the group, embarrassed and worried that they would hate it and knock me off of cloud nine with critiques. They loved it. But my own excitement about the story and the praise of the three other members of my group were not enough to alleviate my fear of public speaking and fear that a large group of people would hate something I created. I had another group member read my story for me. They concluded the presentation by talking about how everyone contributed to the project, including that I wrote the entire story. My teacher was in awe. She wasted no time praising me, which, underneath the embarrassment and discomfort, I relished.
This wasn’t the first time my writing was praised. It wasn’t the first time it was done by an English teacher. It was the first time I felt like someone believed in me instead of just being congratulatory or impressed. I don’t remember a single thing my teacher said to me in that moment, but I do remember how she made me feel, and it was enough. I remember how she emotionally responded to it, and to this day I greatly appreciate it, because I want to continue receiving that kind of emotional response.
I write for me. I write because it feels innate. I started writing because I felt like it was the best way for me to connect with people and feel heard. I want to affect people and tell good stories and make cool stuff. Writing that story–and receiving the feedback I did–was the first time I felt like I could actually do that. The funny thing is, a story in itself often isn’t enough to affect people. People, myself included, do want “good” stories in terms of plot, but plot isn’t what affects people. It’s narrative. People have been telling the same couple of stories for hundreds of years. What makes a story seem fresh and new are the variations between the ways different creators tell stories and the liberties they take. Good stories aren’t about what is being told; they’re about how it’s being told. People don’t connect with an underdog because they came from the bottom and now they’re on top. They connect with the underdog because that underdog is them, and the odds they beat feel real, and the underdog’s success is indirectly validating to them. The ideals of an underdog story are always the same and yet we tell them over and over because we find new things to say and new reasons to inspire people.
That has always been the intrigue of stories to me–the validation that certain things are in fact wrong, that sometimes you are so right, and that life is hard and sometimes you don’t prevail, and that’s okay. I don’t think I did any of this work in that modern myth for my seventh grade English class. But, this experience made me feel like one day I could. And the potential of me being able to do that was, is, so important to me.
Often in coming of age stories there’s an idea of young people trying to find their place within the whole. For most people that carries on through their whole life, and, because it’s such a weirdly complicated thing to understand, it’s usually qualified in terms of skills and talents. And so people often focus on trying to be good at something or a collection of things. For all of my life, one of those things has been writing. I’ve always been known for my love of writing. I’ve always been known for being relatively good at writing. But after I wrote that story, I remember sitting in the living room of my grandparents house feeling exhilarated because that thing that I was known for, that I wanted to be known for, felt real for the first time. More than that, I realized what I wanted to do. Yes, I wanted to write and tell stories, but I realized I wanted to do more with them.
I’ve never known how to casually consume stories. A good story has always become part of me rather than merely an interest. And so I’ve always been aware of how important stories can be. Throughout my years in school, teachers have told me that good stories make you think; that’s one of the reasons people dedicate so much time and effort trying to analyze and understand them (proud English major). All of this makes the importance of stories twofold: personally and socially. Personally, I want to create stories that make people feel comforted. Socially, I want to challenge people; I want to create things that aren’t being created. These have been goals I have been formulating since that short story. I know it’s pretentious to say, but I don’t want every story I create to be for casual consumption. I want to sweep people up and send them on a whirlwind adventure they can’t get out of their minds. I want to make people smile. I want to make people think and talk to each other.
I’m sure this teacher thought she did nothing special. I’ve advertised myself as a writer since I was eight, so I’m sure she knew this, too, because everyone did. But she helped me realize that I want telling good stories to be my place within the whole instead of just something that I do. When I get down on myself about my ability to write and how hard writing is, I think about times like when I wrote that story, when writing feels like wielding magic, and hopefully it’ll touch someone other than myself.