Ella and Writing

I was eight when my teacher handed me a sheet of paper and told me to write to a pretend pen-pal about 9/11 for the school’s writing competition. So I selected my favorite pencil, sharpened it twice, and wrote to Clara in France that “I couldn’t bear to look at the wrecked Pentagon or World Trade Center,” and that “life was a road to death.” I signed off in heavily butchered French, and placed my stapled sheets of paper in the “finished” purple plastic bin.

Two weeks later, the principal’s voice, sounding robotic through the outdated P.A. System, announced me the third grade winner. And three days after that I was standing on a step-stool behind the podium in D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore, the very same podium used by dozens of award-winning authors. But instead of shaking and speaking in a voice too soft to be heard, the way the kids before me had done, I looked up at the crowd and grinned. I tightened one pigtail and read in a clear voice, “Dear Clara…” While the audience clapped as I got handed my certificate, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life—I wanted to write stories that made people as happy.

When I moved from Washington D.C. to New Jersey as a preteen, I channelled all of my sadness and anger into writing a play about leaving behind people and a place you love, discovering in the process that writing was an incredibly effective method to cope with any overwhelming emotion—both positive and negative. The blank page has become my refuge, and for years I’ve made time to write for at least an hour everyday.

Surprisingly, writing, a solitary and often lonely activity, has ended up bringing me more attention than I ever could have imagined. My fourth grade fantasy serial story led to kids passing my journal around under the table in class and questioning me about the next addition during recess. In middle school, I made most of my current closest friends in a creative writing class. And in high school, I discovered the community of young adult fiction writers and immediately knew where I belonged in the literary world

In the past year, I’ve kept a daily blog, posting both fiction and stories about my childhood and present, participated in National Novel Writing Month, where participants write a 50,000 word novel, and written numerous short stories, young adult book reviews for Watchung Booksellers, and a novel I hope to query in the spring. I’ll also be attending the The Society of Children Books Writers and Illustrators’ Winter Conference. Writing has become my entire life, and I have never been happier. I am an honest to goodness writer, and I am sure that if I continue working hard I will be able to make it my profession.

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