We’re turning things around here on Panning for Clouds this Thursday with a little walk down memory lane.
The Moment. It’s different for everyone. That second when you realize that thing you enjoy doing in your spare time is a thing you maybe could see yourself doing professionally.
I’m a writer. To be clear, that is not my professional title, but it is the title that sparks my imagination, gets me up in the morning, pushes me ever onward and upward. It is the framework through which I view the world. Some people are tactical, some are logical or a hundred other things, and some are a little bit of everything. I’m a writer and that means I write. Fiction, specifically, is my passion, but I’m always searching for a clever phrase, a funny bit of dialogue, a way to say something in a way no one has ever said it before. I’m looking to put thoughts, emotions, and ideas together in ways that touch people’s hearts and minds.
Am I successful at that? By some metrics. When I receive a review for a story I’ve written – by a perfect stranger – that says it made them smile, or caused them to cry, or made them angry or sad or that they felt anything at all… That means I’m doing something right. That means I’m touching people, and not in an inappropriate way.
I wasn’t always a writer. I remember when I was six or seven years old, and my mother would supply me with little books to read. I read all the time. I walked around the house with my nose in a book. I read them out loud until I lost my voice, and then I read them quietly, much to my family’s relief. But I never even thought about writing my own stories. I made little stories for class because it was assigned work, but I wasn’t writing stories or comics or whatever outside of school. I was content to read the stories other people had written. Goosebumps and The Boxcar Children became my constant companions for the next several years.
I don’t remember what it was about those books, nor even much of what I read at that young age, that swept me away. I had TV, I had video games, I had friends; I had action figures and board games and coloring books. But books and reading, that was where my mind wanted to go in those early years.
As I got older, I still read a lot, but video games had gotten their hooks into me in a very real way. They were an extension of the imagination I had been cultivating with all those books. Watching TV was great, but it was too passive. Reading was an active thing, and so was playing video games. By the time I was hitting my early teens, I had stopped reading for pleasure. Just up and quit. I only read what was assigned in school.
But something happened when I was twelve years old. In English class, we had been assigned the writing of a short story with the following parameter: “Write about your life twenty years in the future, what you’ll be doing, what kinds of technology we’ll have.” It wasn’t really a short story so much as a worldbuilding exercise, but suddenly it occurred to me that I could control the narrative. I probably didn’t have that exact thought at twelve, but all that stuff I loved about reading and about video games was starting to coalesce in my mind.
I could write a story. I could be in control.
That class assignment was awful and I’m sure if I read it today I’d be incredibly embarrassed, though at the time the teacher singled me out as the only student in the entire grade to have followed the directions and written an A+ story.
And that was The Moment. When an adult singled me out and embarrassed me in front of the class for exceeding all her expectations on a fiction assignment, and my brain was feeling pleased – not that I was receiving praise, but that what I had done had made someone happy.
I had done something, created something, that brought another human being joy. I didn’t even know what it meant at the time, and I didn’t actively write for another four years after that. But what I did do was start seeing the world differently. I was growing up and maturing mentally and emotionally, preparing myself to be a creator. I had tasted the fruits of emotional resonance, and like a drug I needed more.
I could affect people without ever meeting them. I could create bonds with strangers. I could write something that no one had ever written before, and through it I would be understood better. Through it I would understand better.
It wasn’t until I was turning sixteen that I voiced this desire. I wanted to make a video game in the style of Final Fantasy, with a grand story. I found a development kit on PlayStation 1, RPG Maker, and bought it with my own money I had saved up. I found an online community of others just like me, many my same age, and we fed off the excitement and creativity to make games and write stories and have an amazing time.
And I have never gone back. A world viewed through any other lens wouldn’t be as sharp, as vivid.
Through no other lens could I possibly write the hell on.