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  • jrblackburnsmith

My First Time

I wrote my first book when I was seven. It was about a young witch, who lived in a tree with her grandmother - all of which I stole directly from the book I had been reading. This post isn't about plagiarism, but about the fact that for the first time in my life a book had done more than entertain, it had inspired me to act. When I finished that first book, after forty-five minutes or so, I was crushed. I had only written three chapters, and I knew I needed ten or twelve. To make things worse, only one of the chapters was longer than a single paragraph (this was before I had read any Faulkner and knew a paragraph could be a chapter.) I threw that first book away because it was clear to me that I would never be a writer.

But I never stopped reading, and I kept getting inspiration to tell my own stories. In college, I took every creative writing class that Ohio State offered, and learned about narrative and pacing and story arcs and improved, but when I left I still struggled with any form longer than ten thousand words. I stopped writing again, immersed in work and raising a family for a decade.

But I never stopped reading, and I never stopped getting inspiration to tell my own stories. It wasn't until I returned to grad school, at the age of thirty-four, to write the Master's thesis I had never started, that I had a breakthrough. Having been out of grad school for a decade, I first had to petition to return. That part was easy, but by then the English department at Ohio State had stopped allowing students to write a Master's thesis, instead forcing all candidates to take the comprehensive examination. I pled my case (I'd fulfilled all curricular requirements for graduation except the thesis, and I'd be forced to start over if I had to sit for the comprehensive exam) and was given permission. By investing a year in a long form manuscript that was as far from fiction (I hope!) as I could get, I learned about form, about pacing, about structure. I learned how to let a narrative unfold, and how to follow where it went rather than forcing it to go where I wanted. Not only did I breakthrough the inhibitions that were keeping me from getting to a novel, I also have the joy of creating the last Master's thesis published by the English department at The Ohio State University!

That didn't turn me into a writer, however. More than twenty years of getting up at 4am every day and writing is what turned me into a writer. Years of feedback from qualified readers turned me into a writer. Getting beyond my ego and the belief that I knew what I was doing turned me into a writer. And accepting that I needed the help of a world of other people turned me into a published writer.

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