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My first story was about a fox.
I was in fifth grade, and one day we were assigned to write a story about an animal. I ended up with the fox as my animal, and still being something of a dutiful student, I did my research — at least, what research you would expect from a fifth-grader — and I wrote my five-page story.
I enjoyed the experience. I got a kick out of using my imagination to tell the story of this fox making his way through a trailer park, across a major road and over the train tracks to safety — especially since the land he was crossing bore a striking resemblance to where I lived.
Write what you know, right?
Anyway, I wrote my story and I turned it in and I got an A, and I thought that was it. But then my teacher told me she wanted me to read my story to one of the second-grade classes. She told me I should go over to the other classroom at recess, the other teacher would be waiting on me.
I didn’t do it. I went to recess instead and ended up in trouble for not going to read my story to the second-graders.
You wouldn’t think a 10-year-old would be intimidated by a bunch of 7-year-olds. But the thought of going in front of people I didn’t know and reading to them — hell, I still get nervous about it.
I think the most intimidating part of that kind of situation is thanks to that inner critic, the one that’s always thinking, ‘Why would anybody care about what you’re writing? What do you have to say that’s so damn important?’
Perhaps that’s why I went into journalism. I still get to write, but in a sense, I’m not really putting myself on the line. I’m telling other people’s stories, reporting on things that have happened that my readers want to know about. Even when I wrote columns, I tended to use them to reflect on other people’s accomplishments or defeats; their lives, in other words, instead of mine.
As for fiction? Awful lot of novels and short stories already out there; what do I have to offer that’s new? Biography? What have I done that’s worth noting?
I have to remind myself that I do have things to say. That many of the blogs I read and stories I get lost in are being written by people with the same fears and self-doubts and anxieties that I have.
I wonder sometimes, how my life would have turned out had I mustered the nerve to stand up in front of a class of kids younger than me, to read them my story about the fox. Would it have made that much difference?
But stick around, and I’ll tell you a story …