When people ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I usually give my stock answer: "ever since I could hold a pen in my hand."
And that's true. Even when I was 5 and 6, I remember going to literally any store that had an office supply section and looking at the pens and notebooks with reverential awe. I seemed to realize that through pens and paper I could write the world I wanted into being.
But there was a singular, distinct moment when I know without a doubt I wanted to be a writer.
I was 8 years old and in third grade and I had this friend at school, Kaylin, who was a little younger than me. We got along because, at that time, she liked to write and draw as much as I did. One day she brought a couple of her coloring books to school, tore out the pages the liked, colored them, added captions to the pages, then stapled them together to make a book.
I remember most of the pictures were of horses. The story went something like this...
Page 1: [picture of a horse in a pasture] Winnie was a horse who lived in a pasture.
Page 2: [picture of the horse eating] Her favorite food was grass.
Page 3: [picture of the horse behind a fence] Winnie didn't like being in a fence. She wanted to roam free!
Page 4: [picture of the horse leaping over the fence] Winnie jumped over the fence!
Page 5: [a little girl is leading the horse] Sally found her horse roaming around.
Page 6: [Sally and Winnie in the stables] Sally promised to let Winnie outside the fence more.
Page 7: [Sally and Winnie with lots of hearts] They lived happily ever after. The End.
I know now as an adult that it wasn't bad work for a 6 or 7-year-old. It was totally adorable. But back then, 8-year-old me was NOT having it. When Kaylin's mom showed her "book" to my mom, I was horrified.
I pretended not to care while my mom exclaimed what a great book Kaylin had made, but when we got in the car, I couldn't help myself. I said, "That book was terrible! It didn't have a single compound sentence! And there was no plot! The conflict only lasted a page! She didn't even say why Winnie wanted to leave the fence! Or why Sally wouldn't let her out to begin with! And each page only had a sentence! I can write WAY better than that!"
I don't remember what, if anything, my mother said about my rant. But that feeling of knowing I can write something better has never left.
That's not to say my writing today is all ego––I'm old enough and experienced enough now to know thinking you can write better than someone is different than actually doing it. There are countless hours of practice involved and even though that feeling of knowing I could write better first struck me 19 years ago, I'm still learning how to write.
I think the best writers are always learning how to write. It's not something you're ever "done" doing. It's not a craft you can ever truly master. Writing is a practice that takes a lifetime to learn and yet there's always something you can do better.
And it's that feeling of knowing I can write better if I try harder that keeps me going.