- by Karen Tintori
Are writers born, or made, or simply encouraged along?
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade. Somewhere upstairs in my mother’s or grandmother’s old hope chest (I have both for some reason) are writing assignments bearing red As and the red-penned comments of my first editor, Sister Mary Theodora, O. P. Wherever she is now, I owe my decision to become a writer to her effusive enthusiasm for my early work.
Thinking back, I itched to write even younger. I loved words and word games. I can’t tell you how many word games I won at wedding and baby showers. Loved spelling, too, and always wrote longer sentences than sufficed to prove I knew how to use the new spelling words correctly in context. I loved diagramming sentences, exploring synonyms, antonyms, metaphors. And I loved reading. By the time I was thirteen, I’d read every book on the children’s side of our public library. My only regret about that now now is that I didn’t exercise more as a kid — I was too busy lying under the dining room window, reading all summer long.
I balked when the librarian refused to let me borrow books from the adult section until I’d turned thirteen. She told me to go back and re-read the children’s section, but I didn’t want to. I knew even before someone printed up T-shirts that there were too many books and too little time. It makes me sad that I will one day die with too many unread books in my TBR pile.
I kept a diary all through my teen and college years, and all of them are up in the hope chest, too. I wrote the family letters, and collected pen pals from the UK after the Beatles landed in the States. In college, I majored in journalism, worked on the student paper, and never got used to the heart-stopping phone calls that came in the middle of the night from the New York Times with another assignment. I was the Times’ campus stringer. God knows why they insisted on scaring the life out of us like that, when the phone calls were always followed up by telegrams the next day. [The next call I want to receive from the NYT is one telling me I’ve made “the list.” ]
Writing is like breathing, it’s what I do. Fiction, nonfiction, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, emails, journals on vacation in Italy — but not so many handwritten letters any more, alas, and no longer a diary. If I wanted a running chronicle of my life, I’d have to CC myself on daily posts shared with a group of writer pals.
Many writers have said they were avid readers first, but few have shared how they knew this was their calling. So to my fellow scribes, I’m curious — when did you realize that writing was your passion? Your career?