I've written before about one of the books that made me a writer: L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, published in 1923 (after Montgomery's better known Anne of Green Gables), which I first read in the early 1950s at the age of 7 or 8. I just finished rereading it (for the umpteenth time, but the first in several decades), crying over the moving parts just the way I always did. (Yes, I cried when Beth died in Little Women too--was someone saying the other day that gender differences are overstated?)
The thing about Emily is that she writes--first poetry, then stories, and without even thinking about it, unsparing and wickedly accurate character sketches of everyone in the neighborhood. In my formative years, I was reading passages like this:
"But there is a destiny which shapes the ends of young misses who are born with the itch for writing tingling in their baby fingertips, and in the fulness of time this destiny gave to Emily the desire of her heart...."
When her severe Aunt Elizabeth forbids her to write, Emily stands up to her.
"'Don't you know that it is wicked to write novels?' demanded Aunt Elizabeth.
'Oh, I'm not writing novels--yet,' said Emily. 'I can't get enough paper. These are just short stories."....'Oh, I must write, Aunt Elizabeth,' said Emily....'You see, it's this way. It is in me. I can't help it.'"
Later, a respected teacher tells her:
'...you're only thirteen. But you don't know what's ahead of you--the stony hills--the steep ascents--the buffets--the discouragements. Stay in the valley if you're wise. Emily, why do you want to write? Give me your reason.'
'I want to be famous and rich,' said Emily coolly.
'Everybody does. Is that all?'
"No. I just love to write.'
'A better reason--but not enough--not enough. Tell me this--if you knew you would be as poor as a church mouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?'
'Of course I would,' said Emily disdainfully. 'Why, I have to write--I can't help it by times--I've just got to.'
'Oh--then I'd waste my breath giving advice at all. If it's in you to climb you must--there are those who...can't breath properly in the valleys. God help them'...."
I've spent the past 55 years trying to decide if this is true for me. I'm still not sure if I'd feel authentic saying it is. Yet I've been writing all that time with as many rejections, if not more, as anyone I know, as many manuscripts in the drawer. First poem published at age 37. First novel, Death Will Get You Sober (which I sure couldn't have written at 25, 35, or even 45) coming out this April. If I had an itch, it's not genetic: both parents were lawyers. Yet something must have been going on.
So how about you?