My junior high English teacher would occasionally assign creative writing exercises. Nothing complicated. Just write a story then stand up in front of the whole class and read it aloud. Already having a mortal fear of public speaking, I dreaded these more than any other adolescent embarrassment. My first few attempts were horrible, mostly because I was trying to write A Story, and the silence of my classmates when I read them at the podium confirmed my hunch that I sucked. Then finally, in sixth grade I think, fed up with the torture of these silly assignments, I thought, Screw it. I’m just gonna write something ridiculous.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, throwing caution to the wind and thinking you don’t really care about what anyone says. But, at least for me, about five minutes before you’re supposed to deliver, your hands get cold and sweaty, your heart skips several beats and you start thinking, Shit. I severely fucked up. I actually have to READ this. And you try to determine the most believable way to fake food poisoning.
I wrote a James Bond parody about his ex-partner, James Stocks, who was stationed with 007 on Wall Street where they were known as Stocks and Bond. I don’t remember anything else about the story. I’m sure it was dumb. But what I do remember is my classmates laughing at all the right places. If you’ve never had a room full of your peers laughing at your jokes, I strongly recommend it. It’s one of the best natural highs available. From then on, I was the guy who wrote funny stories. And once you develop a reputation like that, you can write anything and they’ll laugh, and I was sure that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
Then I got to high school and my English teacher there gave me a C- on our first writing assignment, curing me of any silly notions I had that I could write. So I spent most of high school dreading English, dreading writing, and even dreading reading for that matter. But then, my senior year, I transferred to a large public high school, and one of my teammates showed me the novel he’d written. Sure, it was Star Wars fan fiction crap, but I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Here was this high school baseball player who’d written a novel just because he felt like it. And thought, Screw it. I’m gonna do it too. And I’ve been trying to do it ever since.
When did you know or decide you had no choice but to write?