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Have I Written Anything?

"First" writing... if that even exists...

By Ellen StedfeldPublished 9 months ago 5 min read
(Depends how you define it)

The first piece I wrote? I might need a whole essay just to think through what that means. And for each kind, the answer is different...

If the first step of the writing process is imagining, I've been doing that since before I could properly put a sentence on a page. From my early days of school, I got told off for daydreaming in class, and eventually worked up little sketches of characters in my planner. 

Was my first "piece of writing" the original picture books we made in early elementary school, where an older student helped us? Mine was a cat and mouse with the names of me & my sister, but I had trouble coming up with a plot. Then there were writing assignments based on vocabulary words, but I wasn't sure how to string them together coherently, nor how to make the required potted plant relate to my goal of including unicorns. (Fortunately, I've become much better at this kind of thing, and embrace it! Adding up the daily random word prompts from "Inktober" October into a concept for my "NaNoWriMo" novel in November, is now my intentional ongoing strategy. Though those projects get stuck in early stages.) 

The first story I remember writing for myself was a picture book about winged cats where one time-travels from ancient Egypt through a portal, but then I became displeased with the narrative or pictures at some point, or was concerned when I realized an established author was already doing winged cats (though I saw in hindsight that the stories were quite different) and never saw it through to completion. When we were given blank books in class, I think it was another Egypt adventure (maybe we'd studied this, or I was spending significant time at The Met museum) but I worried about getting the rest of the pages drawn right. If I made a mistake, it could ruin the whole book - I only had one, and the pages were already bound. Or in an early collaboration: Somewhere, my family has an original picture book floating around that was handmade with our cousins on a trip, bound in colorful wrapping paper. Can't remember if I put this fun experience at risk with my particular-ness, or found it freeing to let others take the reins, though I vaguely like to recall it as a joy and creative achievement. 

Though I was never successful a daily journaler, I had a tendency to thoroughly think through and document my thoughts, even the mundane moments of my day. A natural memoirist, then? Sometimes I wrote poems. I had some good ones in middle school (or even earlier?), like a favorite about picking and eating wild raspberries that I lettered on a poster, but eventually lost. Also about fiery Autumn leaves, and the subway described as a dragon. Then I'd forget I wrote poetry until I rediscovered my love for it again. Perhaps poems are the only ones, other than tailored essays assigned for school, that I could finish properly.

The imaginings continued all along, and continued to be inspired by my voracious reading of fantasy + consumption of cartoons and pop culture. These dramatic stories in my head often felt fully completed, in the broad strokes, but actually had lots of plot holes that needed filling. I'd write down scenes and scraps of dialogue, but lacked the awareness of how to pull it all together, or the skills to fulfill it, and then it would get displaced by a better one. I could revisit them in my head, or tell a friend, started binders of sketches, but no final product to be had.

There was a writing & art anthology at my high school, but I found out about it too late and was too worried about getting it just right... was I ever actually in it? I remember for an English/Language Arts class in senior year, putting together a writing folder of examples I was most proud of, into a portfolio essentially. So I was beginning to take into consideration their polish and curation, a tangible way to share. 

Perhaps the first thing I could say was "published" as it was put-together-in-a-book with classmates, were the comic pages about spraining my ankle. An assignment for pre-college Comics elective, the scope of the project was specific enough in its timing & topic that I found a way to fulfill it. A bit sketchy, purposefully. In the end, we had copies of our own little anthology.

Mostly, like this, I have identified with and relied on my visual arts skills over writing, but they inevitably go hand in hand. One of my early novel projects became so visual it switched to a would-be a graphic novel. Unfinished comic concepts can be adapted into prose novels and scenes for writing challenges. Novels-in-progress have been presented as illustrations and interactive activities in an art gallery settings. Are those writings "finished"? Must they be? Will they ever be? 

A writers group I was part of used to share samples at monthly meetings, so I would prepare a couple pages to read. Although I couldn't pitch to publishers yet with a half-made item, it then occured to me I could apply for work-in-progress grants. So it was only a sliver or portion of a story, but could be received by other humans. Then once or twice, I was recounting a moment of my real day, that I'd given some sci-fi flavor. Noticing a time loop, presenting a treatise on teleportation. Perhaps my first short stories? I was always chipping away at very long novelish things, or brief poems, but struggled with the in-between. 

In that sense, my work with Vocal.media the last couple years has been another form of firsts. Keeping it short-ish. Getting it done/leaving it as is. At least, enough to put it out there where the public can see. One more writing exercise with its own flaws, but produces content I can claim is finished (for now), and can tangibly do something with. Perpetual motion towards my goals. Maybe my first fantasy short stories, first finalized process-oriented essays, and several other forms that exist or are to come...

By now, I've done enough poetry event readings and compilations for attempted competitions to say that there are some solid works of writing in my repertoire. But it's as much about the journey of making, and remains a perpetual process of wondrously unexpected discoveries, that still leaves me feeling like each piece of writing is its own first.

LifeWriting ExerciseProcess

About the Creator

Ellen Stedfeld

Perpetually immersed in drawing, illustration, and creative experiments, at live events and @EllesaurArts.com

Community arts in NYC/Queens -- LIC Arts Open festival May 15-19th 2024

Love participating in challenges to motivate new work!

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