Recently, I’ve been rereading The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien and it has gotten me thinking a lot about adventures, why characters go on them, and how they get started. In the case of The Hobbit‘s Bilbo Baggins, his story begins when a wizard arrives on his doorstep, bringing thirteen dwarves with him, and informs Bilbo that he’ll be going off on an adventure whether he likes it or not. Bilbo describes this encounter as “the most awkward Wednesday he could ever remember”, and I don’t blame him. Though real adventures don’t usually begin with the same flash as they do in books, more often than not they do begin with someone or something unexpected giving us the nudge we need to leave our comfortable hobbit holes behind. In my case, the nudge that sent me off on the adventure of writing a novel for children came from a woman with an eclectic sense of style, a passion for blue eyeliner, and the inexplicable ability to read copious amounts of high schoolers’ writing without going insane.
This woman was my Creative Writing teacher during my senior year of high school. I had never planned on taking an elective writing class during my high school career. I had given up writing in Jr. High after being beaten over the head with the idea that it was an impractical ambition. But because of a set of life circumstances too complicated to explain in this post, I entered my senior year wanting to get out of high school as quickly as I possibly could, and resolved to graduate a semester early. This meant that in order to fulfill graduation requirements I had to take two English classes at the same time, my AP Literature class, and the easiest English class the school offered: Creative Writing.
If the story of my life was a novel or a movie, then this part would be filled with exciting montages of me clacking away at a keyboard with new energy and confidence, and many inspiring scenes of meaningful heart-to-hearts between my teacher and myself. But in my real life adventure, nothing so exciting happened until the very end of the semester when, alight with endless enthusiasm as she always was, my teacher insisted that everyone in the class submit something to a writing competition held annually at a college in Wisconsin. Dubious, I looked over the categories, and Children’s Literature caught my eye. That night I typed out a ten-pages of what I imagined to be a first chapter to a Children’s novel. It was messy, cliché, full to the brim with novice mistakes, and, somehow, it won first place.
As I sat on the bus during the ride home from the competition, still disbelievingly staring at my certificate and twenty-five dollars in prize money, my teacher sat down across the aisle from me. She congratulated me and asked what I was planning on doing for a career. I told her that I wan’t sure, but I was thinking about majoring in Psychology. She nodded, giving my a very knowing look with her heavily eyelined eyes.
“You could. Or, you know, you could do this. I think you could make it as a writer. You’ve got ‘it’, you’ve got ‘umph'”
I don’t remember what I said to that, probably some stammering thanks and something else noncommittal. But that was it; that was my nudge. I knew she wasn’t trying to guarantee that I would go on to win fame and fortune or be the next J.K. Rowling, but it was like a door that I had assumed was shut and locked had opened just a tiny bit, and she was reminding me that I could walk through it. So I did. My freshman year of college I declared a major in English Writing and devoted myself to becoming a better writer. It has surely been an adventure, one with more troubles and setbacks than I would have liked, but five and a half years later those ten pages that won me twenty-five dollars have grown into a full novel called Keeper of the House. I’m still in the final stages of pruning and polishing the manuscript, and I’m sure my adventure with this book and as a writer is far from over, but I don’t believe that I’ll ever forget that unexpectedly little nudge offered by my teacher that got me through the door and set my feet on the road.
As always, thanks for reading.