I can't recall exactly when I began reading. Fairly early on I should think, since I can recall being sent over to the "big kids' school" when I was in kindergarten, so that I might study reading and writing with the first graders, though my love of the written word began much earlier than that. My parents began reading to me (and on at least a handful of occasions suffered me to dictate stories to them) long before I was ready to begin attending any sort of school, and my maternal grandfather regularly spun the most wonderful adventures of an imaginary woodchuck named Waldo for my brother and I (stories which regularly scandalized Mom and my grandmother, who considered the content unsuited to children's fare, but which delighted my brother and I).
My love of storytelling was only more firmly cemented once I entered grade school. While most of my fellow students dreaded English class, except for the once-weekly trips to the school library, I saw it as the best part of the day. It was around this time, when I was still in second or third grade, that I would discover that The Hobbit was not just an animated television special (which I'd seen the year prior and been enchanted by), but a book as well. I promptly checked it out of the school library and devoured it in only two days. It would become the first "real" novel that I would ever read.
In high school, despite the advent of distractions such as video games, cable television and a newer, edgier breed of comic books (the latter proving to be a vice that Mom was particularly critical of), I still found time to read one or two novels a week. About this time my writing would also kick into overdrive (mostly anime fan fiction at first, though it would be years before I would learn that anyone else actually wrote the stuff, or even that it was called fan fiction), my sister acting both as a sort of unofficial critic and perhaps the first person in at least a decade with whom I had shared my work.
It was also during this period, during my senior year of high school, that I began work on what would be my most enthusiastic work to that date: an as-yet unfinished (but neither abandoned or forgotten) novel-length fantasy. Written mostly longhand, sometimes twenty pages in an afternoon and until my hand was so cramped that I could barely put down the pencil (I still hope to revisit the story one day, though next time I fully intend to use a word processor...or at least a typewriter!). I also was to go through my least favorite experience since learning that I wanted to be a storyteller:
Creative writing class.
As a storyteller, I am and always have been a strong adherent of the Making It Up As You Go Along school of thought. My creative writing teacher was much more structured in her approach, preferring a more rigidly plotted approach. It was the worst semester of my young life, one only made all the more embarrassing by the fact that a selection of what I considered my worst (and, in at least one case, most private) works appeared in that year's school literary magazine. I've spent the intervening years trying to put the experiences behind me, and I've been largely successful. But I did at least take one positive thing with me:
You can't force creativity. At least I can't. That's what this 'blog is about. Creating freely, as yourself. Letting the story take you where it will, rather than the other way around. If a more structured method works for you then by all means, follow it. But don't ever allow yourself to become so much a slave to your preconceived narrative that you block the natural flow of the story, because sooner or later your characters are going to do something you weren't expecting. Don't try to whip them back into line when they do. Instead, follow them down whatever path they lead you. You may just be surprised where you end up.
Next time: two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters.