After a season of memoir writing I am now developing characters for a new work of fiction, and wonder if I'll be as least as good of a creative writer as when I was a kid.
Sometime around age nine or 10 I began cranking out a childhood collection of prose that still amazes me because of its sheer volume. I started with comic books inspired by the Marvel brands I was reading, and then little “novels” that grew longer and more complex with time. These were accompanied by song lyrics that became particularly intense in my mid-to-late teens.
Altogether I finished 15 novels before my senior year in high school—plus about a dozen or so sketched-out ideas and outlines that never got off the ground—and the song lyrics total in the hundreds. They are about war and peace, good persons and evil persons, guilt and redemption. They express a yearning for justice and truth to prevail, they are full of idealistic hope and occasionally hindered by inconsistencies and naiveté. I wrote each of them on typewriters that progressed from manual to electric, corrective tape and white-out serving as important supplies. I rolled endless sheets of paper in the midst of my creative labor, and typed rapidly with two fingers.
I have kept these original works with me throughout my travels, sometimes in cardboard boxes and more recently in a plastic bin that has moved from attic to attic. Although none were ever published or produced, the books and lyrics have survived many purges. They are among the last physical remnants from my childhood, a part of me that I cannot easily discard, an external expression of what remains inside.
It was during my mid-30s, about five years ago, when I first felt led to drag the bin down from the attic and take a peek into my literary efforts of the past. I enjoyed a few chuckles regarding the artwork I had created for the book covers, the nature of some of my characters’ dialogue and the simplicity of the plots. I pushed past this, giving myself a pass for having been a child (after all, how many kids wrote 15 novels) and slowly read through each book and song, looking afresh for the four-eyed boy behind the words.
Many of us keep journals or diaries, reflecting on what is going on in the present and expressing hopes for the future. If you ever take a look through previous entries (providing they are legible), you gain a snapshot of who you were and what you were becoming during that season of life.
For me, this body of childhood literary offerings serves as a series of unintentional journals. As I peruse the entries with the advantage of time and maturity I see them woven together by a quest for identity and belonging. I encounter a rough-around-the-edges writer, striving for the world to be a certain way so he could make his mark in that same world.
I also see a picture illustrating a fierce battle against loneliness, equaled by a constant receipt of grace.
Sometimes that battle continues, and the outpouring of grace certainly has continued if not increased manifold. In many ways the boy of 16 who wrote a 407-page novel is the same man of 40 who now sits down at a laptop in a suburbia home office and tries to clear his mind of clutter so he can create. In many ways they are worlds apart.
Hopefully, the characters I create will reflect four decades of life experience but retain a certain glimmer of childhood innocence as well...demonstrating that the deltas between dreams for this world and its pragmatic realities can be lessened with no small amount of determination. Maybe through them I can still make a mark.