Nov 10 2012

Becoming a Writer

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I hesitated to write this post because it’s such a departure from most of my stories with their ties to the natural world.

But then I thought: maybe it’s not so different after all, because the story I’m about to tell really does relate to the natural evolution of the writer’s world.

But first, the spark for this post:

The addition of new shelving units and the cleaning of existing storage space in our house took me on a trip down memory lane – or, more accurately, through a crapload of boxes. Click to enlarge.

As you can imagine, I unearthed some interesting things.

What a hoot. I remember nagging my older sister to write newspapers with me when we were younger. My mom, miraculously, saved this edition – dated May 28, 1984. Please don’t read it. The grammatical and spelling errors make me break out in a cold sweat. I would have been 12 and my sister 14. Monkey Man, a god-awful story about a man, part-monkey, (such an original title!), was written when I was 10 or 11. Love my artwork, eh?

And then there was this enchanting story about Lendle Lubunzie, a Luvatarian (“… As you are called Earthling,” he says to the main character, Tulip Jones, “I am a Luvatarian.”) Did I forget to mention that he’s from the world of Loveopia? Yeah, obviously I was into alliteration. This gem was written for a contest when I was in eighth grade. As this was the only entry, it won. (And, of course, Lendle loved orange Reese’s Pieces).

You’ll see the name Shannon Blair at the right corner (mine was on the opposite side). Yes, I coerced my friend into co-writing this story one weekend. I’m seeing a theme, here. “Write with me, write with me. Pleeaaase. Someone write with me.” Coercion, anyone? Click to enlarge if you must.

Again, more lovely artwork. Click to enlarge.

And then I came across the Holy Grail of finds. Letters – yes, plural – from Beverly Cleary. Sent to me thirty years ago (What the??? And thank you, Mom, for saving them!) I remember carting those letters around like they were gold. Star struck can’t even begin to describe the way I felt. I’m sure if you look, you’ll see some of my fingerprints deposited on the paper from over-handling.

That THE Beverly Clearly would take time to write me two notes left a lasting impression. Click to enlarge.

I think something happened at that point – something my young mind wasn’t able to process. Sure, I was aware that Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume (and other authors) sparked my love of reading, my appreciation of words and story. But I think the personal correspondence from a “famous author” was a catalyst of sorts, an inconspicuous seed settling deep inside, waiting patiently to sprout.

But for years the seed lay dormant, unable to germinate as teachers encouraged me to become an educator. “You’re good at English. Become an English teacher.” I’m struck, today, at the fact that no one ever encouraged me to aspire to become an author, a writer.

Even I didn’t consider it. It was something other people did. Like Beverly Cleary. Not me. The first time I ever thought, “Hey – maybe I could try,” was a full year after I graduated from college – with my English and comprehensive communications teaching certification in hand, 7-12.

In a bookstore with my friend, Elana, I came across a book, So You Want to Write a Novel? A response reverberated inside of me, catching me a bit off guard. Yes! The answer was yes. All these years later. And just like that, the seed planted by Beverly Cleary began to take root.

For Writers: I realize that ‘what I wanted to be’ had been in front of me all along. The proof was before my eyes (seen above in my silly stories, and also in my career choice to write – not teach – for newspapers and magazines, and work in the communications field).

Yet the encouragement to pursue the fiction dream was never presented as an option. Only in 2010 did I begin to seriously dig back in to the fertile writing soil that has begged for cultivation all these years. This time, I believe it is an option. And dang it, I will tend to it, pursue it, nurture it.

When did you set down your writing roots? Did something or someone inspire you? Do you have any childhood proof?


39 Responses to “Becoming a Writer”

  • Laurie Buchanan Laurie Buchanan Says:

    What a rich post! Rich with memories. Rich with seeds of unlimited possibility that were unleashed in a heartbeat when you saw the book title, “So You Want to Write a Novel?”

    I love it!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Laurie, for your never-ending support! Hope the conference went well!

    [Reply]

  • Julia Munroe Martin Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I flat out love this post — Beverly Cleary is one of my very favorite writers. Ramona and Beezus are my particular favorites (although I love Henry Huggins and Ribsy too!). And so I’m quite envious of your two letters! Your artwork, Martin the Monkey-Man (nice name, btw) and Lendle are hysterial but also incredibly creative! As for being a writer, I too had no idea I could choose to be that… my parents told me I would be a woman of science. It took me a long time to realize that what I loved to do was something that I might be able to do as a real job. I would say in terms of who inspired me to write fiction, it would have to be my husband — who over the years watched me write so much, he finally suggested I do it all the time. (p.s. did you ever use your teaching credential?)

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, yes! Ramona and Beezus; LOVED. And The Mouse and the Motorcycle (and Ralph S. Mouse, per the note from Beverly).

    Your story is so different, yet the same, as mine: not really knowing you could ‘choose’ to be an an author. I have to admit that I’m jealous of the young whipper-snappers who can now choose creative writing majors and “know,” out the gate, that they CAN choose this path. Took me too damn long to figure it out!

    Love that hubby is your main supporter and inspiration. And, no, I did not use my teaching credentials. Got a teaching offer and a PR/writing job offer at the same time out of undergrad. Took the PR/mag writing job without hesitation.

    [Reply]

  • Shary Shary Says:

    Beverly Cleary wrote to you twice?!? Very cool! When I was a kid, I never dreamed I could write to an author and they would actually write back. I wish I’d dared. I wonder if my parents saved my first book. (A Ghost Named George – about a ghost named George.) I’d like to get my hands on that oeuvre. :)

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Shary… if you DO find your “A Ghost Named George” story, you MUST put it on your blog. I would love to read it!

    [Reply]

  • Donna Donna Says:

    Oh my Goodness! How amazing! I absolutely loved Ramona the Pest and all of the other Ramona stories when I was younger. That was one book I remember reading in almost one day, which was unusual for me at the time. I love that Beverly Clearly wrote you two letters! I can imagine how encouraging and exciting that must have been for you. Your stories from years ago are great! And I say, YOU GO, GIRL with your Fiction Dream! :)

    [Reply]

    melissa

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I also loved Ramona the Pest. All of her books were SO good, weren’t they? Thanks so much, Donna, for the encouragement. Looking through all those ‘old’ writings really energized me.

    [Reply]

  • Leah Leah Says:

    This is such a great story and recollection of your writing roots! My story is similar in that I think I always wanted to write and did so many things as a child to start that path (coupled with my love of reading). But it was not until just a few years ago, that I knew writing would be my way of life and could be a professional career. Like you, I am so glad I cam to that realization!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh yes … I was a book worm too. I remember feeling the need to win the “Read-A-Thon” every year, but alas, that honor always went to Nicole Cook (the girl read like a MACHINE). Nik – if you’re out there somewhere: losing to you was an honor! ;-)

    [Reply]

  • Jessica Vealitzek Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    Love, love this post. I can relate to all of it down to the childhood newspapers. (I also did newscasts.) I had many family, friends, and teachers tell me I was a good writer; one even suggested I enter a contest and I won. But no one ever suggested I actually BE a writer.
    So glad you let the seed take root — I’ll be cheering you on!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    I forgot about that; I think I did newscasts as well (along with donning my swimsuit during the Olympics and pretending to do ‘floor routines’ — but that’s another story!)

    And I’m cheering for YOU! Just checked out the posts I missed on your blog. You’re self-publishing! You must be so, so excited (I commented). Let’s cheer one another on these journeys, my friend. Exciting times ahead.

    [Reply]

  • Cynthia Robertson Cynthia Robertson Says:

    This post brought back so many memories, Melissa. I love that you still have some of your ‘early work’. I wish I had some of mine. I clearly recall writing a story about a dog, but I have no idea what happened to it. And I didn’t have your obvious drawing talent to illustrate, so I cut a cute dog photo out of a newspaper. I think I was in elementary school.

    “Only in 2010 did I begin to seriously dig back in to the fertile writing soil that has begged for cultivation all these years. This time, I believe it is an option. And dang it, I will tend to it, pursue it, nurture it.” Hooray! I think seeing ourselves as writers is a large part of actually being one. Faith, sister, faith!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    You know, if it weren’t for my mom keeping all those old things, I’m sure it would all have gone up in smoke. I hope you find your dog story! You got me to thinking about my parents’ influence… they encouraged reading (and never balked at how many books I ordered in school), but I don’t think THEY realized I could BE an author either. I think so much of that has to do with the blue collar town where I grew up. The more “practical” options were the things we were steered toward, even by guidance counselors. Hmm…

    [Reply]

  • Christine Grote Christine Grote Says:

    I don’t think you’re such a bad artist, in fact, I think you may have some hidden talent there. :)

    Thanks for sharing your journey. The post cards from Beverly Cleary are too much. I’m glad your mom saved them too. My mom was like yours—not much survived her cleaning frenzies. I do have a bit of this or that she saved from an elementary school newspaper or high school English class. I think that points to the fact that she wanted me to be a writer long before I ever acknowledged it.

    Good post, Melissa. I enjoyed reading it.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Christine. I actually wasn’t too bad at art when I got older (my favorite – a charcoal drawing of the car my dad and I restored together. I must have that SOMEWHERE?)

    What a great point … that my mom saving all that stuff might have pointed to support of a writing career. The great thing about my folks was that they were supportive no matter what I said I wanted to do. If I’d have THOUGHT to attempt fiction writing as a career, I’m sure they’d have been behind it. I just think none of us considered it a viable option, honestly.

    [Reply]

  • Jolina Petersheim Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What a wonderful post, and your artwork is pretty stinkin’ good for an eleven-year-old! I had some wonderful teachers in elementary school and throughout college who helped cultivate my love for reading and writing. Teachers have no idea the powers they hold!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Absolutely … teachers wield so much more power than they realize, which can be used in such a positive fashion, but also – sadly – in damaging ways. My dad had a teacher who told him, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ Her exact words. And he grew up believing her. Sigh.

    [Reply]

  • Natalia Sylvester Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I remember you mentioning these letters once! How wonderful that you got to rediscover them. I know exactly what you mean about not knowing you wanted to be a writer, despite always having written. I wrote my whole life, and had teachers and mentors tell me to never stop writing, but when I first started college I became a journalism major, thinking I needed to find a practical way to apply these skills. I think with any art, deciding to pursue it is a leap of faith (one I’m so glad you took)!

    [Reply]

    melissa

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I probably mentioned them in response to one of your lovely blog posts about a similar topic! (Yep, I too – took the journalism track — tacked on to my major … as a second minor).
    You and Jolina, by the way, are the youngsters I mention, though, who seem to have ‘figured it out’ way earlier than so many of us old ladies! And I couldn’t be more thrilled for BOTH of you and the books you’ll having coming out very soon.

    [Reply]

  • Annie Neugebauer Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Oh, I adore your illustrations! So cute! I have a bunch of old stuff like this too–or my mom does, rather–and I have no doubt it was the seed of my desire to become an author. I don’t remember a single spark, but I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by supportive parents and teachers. I think one of the biggest factors was confidence. I had some teachers enter my poems and stories in little contests, and winning some of those was much-needed early affirmation.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Contests, I think, are valuable to writers at ANY age. They definitely provide that oh-so-important affirmation to “keep going”! You need to post some of your old treasures so we can read them ;-) .

    [Reply]

  • Lisa Ahn Lisa Ahn Says:

    I second Julia — I love, love this post. Your story sounds so much like mine. I was good at English, so I went to grad school and then I taught. Even though I always wrote, I never considered “being a writer” as an option. Like you, when I see writers in their early twenties, totally committed from the start, I feel like slapping my own forehead. But at least we’re here now.

    My daughters are 6 and 8 and we’ve spent a lot of time with Beezus and Ramona. Love them. Your letters are a super treasure. (On the Judy Blume side, Fudge is a big hit in our house.)

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Your story makes me sad… especially since you are SO darn gifted a writer. That you never thought you could “be a writer” is heartbreaking. But, yes, we share the same story!

    And double-yes on the forehead slaps. I want to wring my own neck sometimes. Though I have to share: a published, popular author once told me, “I think you don’t have enough life experiences under your belt until you’re in your 40s – the kind that helps you write good stories. You’re starting at the perfect time.” Ha ha. Certainly there have been plenty of young, prolific, successful, fabulous storytellers, but I’m going to embrace her thoughts (esp. since 2012 was the year I hit 40! ;-)

    [Reply]

    Lisa Ahn

    Lisa Ahn Reply:

    I think that your writer friend is right, actually. I know I couldn’t have written what I’m writing now in my 20’s. Jan O’Hara has a great post up on Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad where she makes a similar point. (And thanks for the lovely compliment too — right back at you!!)

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    I’m going over to check that post out! Thank you, Lisa. And there is definitely truth to it.

    [Reply]

  • Lara Schiffbauer Lara Schiffbauer Says:

    Actually, I love your artwork! It’s super-cute, just like the ideas for your stories of your fledgling writing years. :)

    I wish I had a story about always wanting to be a writer, but I don’t, really. I always expressed myself through writing (journals and poetry) but never really thought of fiction until it was the only way I could create. Drumming and acting had always been my main focus. When I needed a return to creativity, those weren’t viable options, and so I returned to the one area I could create, and still be a mom to my then toddlers. It’s been a fun journey and I definitely am not quitting now!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    That’s the thing … I didn’t realize I’d always wanted to be a writer until I really looked back and analyzed. I think it’s super cool that your drum set was your creative inspiration (and acting – something I really regret not having done!

    Funny you should mention letters (something else I found when I was cleaning). That was one of my main obsessions growing up: pen-pals – from all over the world. At one point, 40 at once. Then I seem to have gone on another letter-writing spree my freshman year of college. I’m not sure how I found the time, but I wrote to grandparents, long-lost aunts and uncles, cousins, friends … That my mom saved THOSE, too, is wonderful because the seeds of many more story ideas lie within those crumpled envelopes.

    [Reply]

  • Erika Marks Erika Marks Says:

    Oh, Melissa–your mom is the best for saving these treasures! I love that you shared them with us because this is EXACTLY where it starts–and to have the proof is so special. Those letters from Beverly Cleary are gold indeed! Like your mom, my mom saved all my early handmade comic books (my first real writing;)) and they are such a trip to revisit–and I am so thankful for them.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Have we see any of your comics? You must share them with us on your blog! It is such a blessing when our parents save those ‘treasures’ for us to treasure later.

    [Reply]

    Erika Marks

    Erika Marks Reply:

    You know, they are still up in Maine! Safe and sound and I keep meaning to bring them back–maybe now I’ll finally remember!:)

    [Reply]

  • girl parker girl parker Says:

    Good Golly, Miss Molly!! You have letters from Beverly Cleary?!!! I swoon. I stand up straight and swoon again. I may need a fainting couch. I wanted to be Beezus in the worst way and was pretty sure I already was, having the necessary rugrat little sister. We even had the same floaty skater haircut at the same time (well, at least when I read it).

    I don’t have an exact time that pins down my writing dreams, but I am still disgusted with my college journalism professor who announced that getting published was impossible and don’t even try unless you’re going to write a romance for housewives… the condescending twit. Anyhoo, let’s prove him wrong!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    You are hilarious. I need a fainting couch, too (can you believe those things really existed? Though of course, if I were bound up in a corset like a stuffed pig, I’d be fainting, too).

    Wow- your dumb-head professor sounds like one of mine, (maybe worse?), who said to me in front of the entire room ofmy peers (about my interpretation of a Romantic Era poem), “What? You worry me, Melissa. That’s verging on psychotic.” Then she rolled her eyes. She said SOMETHING like that — or something equally appalling… and I’ve only recently become less terrified of poetry. Yes – here’s to proving them both wrong about our writing (because I think good writing does have a poetic quality to it!)

    [Reply]

  • Nina Nina Says:

    I LOVE that you still have those letters. That is the coolest thing ever. I also loved the authors you named and I suppose always saw myself writing stories one day. I used to write stories in fifth grade about my teachers falling in love with each other. It was a soap opera!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    A sign of future women’s fiction-writing destiny?

    [Reply]

  • Lindsey Lindsey Says:

    I love this. I never had the chutzpah to write to my favorites (mostly poets — talk about intimidating) but, if I hadn’t had parents who treated going to the library or bookstore as a treasure hunt, who knows what I’d be today?

    To your point about why we don’t get encouraged to write — I had so many people say to me, “Well, what about your day job?” The funny thing is, business writing IS my day job. So I still write. All the time. But I had no clue that I could start a business doing so until I read the words (and encouragements) of fellow writers-who-blog.

    This is a good pre-Thanksgiving reminder to us all to give back whenever we get an email from someone asking for a little advice.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh boy do I hear you … I’d never have the guts to write to poets (because I am so inferior about all things poetry). But I bet you’d be surprised at how grateful they are TO receive “fan mail.” I’m sure they’d have responded.

    i’m the same: writing professionally for non-profits and businesses IS my day job as well. It can be done (though I find it very, very difficult transitioning from business writing to fiction. Not sure I’ll ever figure that out!)

    [Reply]

  • Amber Amber Says:

    This is so sweet! It makes me want to sift through old boxes and see if my mom still has any of my stuff. (I’m fairly certain I went through an alliteration stage, too.)

    Also, the drawings!! I’m in love.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Glad you like my one-dimensional drawing attempts :-) ! I hope you CAN find some of your original writings. And you must share with us.

    How are those cute kittens? Not tiny anymore, are they? Ours are having a 3-year birthday on Monday! Time flies.

    [Reply]

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