When I was three, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I wanted a pencil. Oh God, so badly, I wanted one. I ached for my pencil. I dreamt about my pencil. Toys held no interest for me. I only pretended to like them so you didn’t think I was strange. I would have traded you a stack of comics a mile high and a sea of noisy plastic for my slender shard of graphite. Closing my eyes, I imagined holding it in my tiny hand. And I didn’t want just any pencil. I wanted my pencil, a pencil of my own, one that belonged to me. It would be a pencil that I would choose.
You see, I had a plan. My pencil was going to be a magic pencil. It was going to take me everywhere. And it had to be a pencil, because you can’t fix mistakes with a pen. I remember thinking the eraser was the most brilliant invention. Incredible. You can write with one end, and edit with the other.
I still remember running through the store with my brothers and my sister, past all of the toys, my little forehead hot with anticipation at the prospect of having my first, my very own pencil. My precious mother understood. This was serious business, and she did not hold back with the pomp and the circumstance. She understood that nothing short of a parade was necessary to usher in the singularly most important moment of my life.
It was orange, with a green stripe around the metal top, and a fresh pink eraser on the end.
Of course, at three years of age I didn’t know how to spell, but my brother taught me how to write numbers up to one hundred. I went through a thousand sheets of paper, moving my hand across the page, writing from one to ten, ten to twenty, and so on across and down the page. My heart rested when I was writing. As my hand moved smoothly across the page, I knew I had found what I would do for the rest of my life. (Thirty years later this image of writing became the final image in my first novel.)
So many of my students and potential students come to me wanting to know how to get published and produced. They want their work to be read, to be seen. But what they really want is for themselves to be seen. Here’s the thing. We do not need to be seen! We are adults now. That time is past. We need to see ourselves.
We need to be more curious about the world of our story than about any idea of security, of fame, or any idea that some kind of validation from outside of ourselves is going to make one bit difference. J.D. Salinger said, “Think of the book that you would absolutely love to read, and then write it shamelessly.”