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When the Pencil Hit the Paper

Remembering my first story

By Nicole FennPublished 3 months ago 13 min read
Photo by Nicole - Nicki's first journal

When I was young, I never understood writing for fun. It honestly just happened. I never sat at the kitchen table pondering potential themes and stories, never created characters and explored their arcs at the familiar and sacred space of my desk. I had a pile of journals that I loved to collect, but never write in, and occasionally I’d sift through and find the prettiest one and just - wing it. At the age I was, I never recognized it as a hobby. I never recognized plot points or utilized character sheets, never made outlines, or even went back and edited what I wrote. I’d open the journal, pick up a pencil, and just write what was on my mind. And somehow, as an 11-year-old, was able to string together enough words and thoughts to create stories - not very flushed out - but they were stories nonetheless.

The very first story I remember writing - I found the journal where I wrote this and reread it a few times - was a simple story with a character that reflected myself and, of course, was not finished. Like in true Nicole fashion, even then I didn’t finish anything. Surprise, surprise.

“The Princess and the Soccer Ball”

Lovingly scripted by Nicole Fenn with a crude drawing underneath the title depicting a young girl in a ballet tutu with shinguards and cleats, and a soccer ball resting just off to her left (“cover” also proudly labeled by me). The one thing I actually can give myself credit for is how neat my handwriting was at such a young age. Now, I didn’t date when I wrote this piece, unfortunately, but the copyright date on the back of the journal states 2008 - so I would have been about 11 at the time if I had received this journal that same year. But, going back and rereading this story - once I was able to get past all the spelling mistakes and the realization that not a single comma was used anywhere, I found myself smiling for this young girl and her budding talents.

The several pages and barely 5 chapters talked about a girl by the name of Beth Royal, who had been dancing for the majority of her childhood. Looking back on it now, I believe I might have kept the term dancing as general as I could because I did not know how to spell ballet (haha!). But, she finds herself at a crossroads wanting to try new things other than dancing, one of these activities being soccer. Her mother, however, forbids it - not wanting to see her daughter trot up and down a muddy field getting pushed and kicked by other players. Beth’s father, on the other hand, supports her desire to try this new sport and registers her to join her community’s girl’s soccer team. It’s their little secret as her father takes her from soccer practice to dancing class; her mother questions her daughter’s exhausted state at the end of the day but dismisses it as Beth claims she’s just working hard in dance class.

By the 3rd chapter - each chapter only a page and a half long, if that - we run into the conflict of Beth being cast as the princess in her ballet’s upcoming performance of “The Princess and the Pauper” (or Poper, as 11-year-old me had spelled it). And her mother, the only one excited, buys her daughter a beautiful ensemble pertaining to a jeweled dress, shoes, and accessories for the performance. Beth is overwhelmed by this gift from her mother, but finds herself in a pickle (I apparently used that term a lot) as she’s also been positioned as a forward on her soccer team for the upcoming tournament that’s - would you know - the same weekend as the ballet performance.

And, it ends there.

I honestly turned the page a few times after the start of chapter 5, looking for the rest of the story, only to be greeted with another page that had writing at the top but scribbled out with a pen. Now, the first few pages of this journal - at least where I had written the story - are falling out, and I searched the rest of the journal to see if I had stuffed the remaining pages of this story elsewhere.

But, nothing. That was it.

It’s like reading a story on a forum and catching up with the last chapter the writer had posted, excited for the author to continue writing and posting more…but seeing that the story had last been updated in 2009.


Although, as I was reading this - rather - grammatical and spelling trainwreck of a story, I couldn’t help but just be enamored with my younger self. I kept thinking, my younger self only wrote like this so I could become the writer I am today. She didn’t know any better then, didn’t have all her creative writing classes in college yet, and professional editing courses to improve herself. She had an idea that hit close to home, sat at her desk with this journal in front of her, and just wrote. No spellcheck, no references, just her imagination, and this decorated journal kept close to her heart.

First Story, First Revelation

Now, I’m not very good at math - at all - but I believe this was 15 years ago when I had written this story. At 11, I was still in soccer. My town’s community center had a boys and girls soccer league that ranged from the starting age of around 4-6 to the older teams in the 13-14-year-old range. I started when I was around 8 and played until I was 13. There were many reasons why I stopped playing, one including myself finding I didn’t click with the clique the team was becoming. That and asthma. While I found out I had it when I was 8, running for the sport felt straining, even after getting medication for it; and I quit to pursue colorguard in high school for all four years - which was ten times more enjoyable.

So, as I read over this story again, I’m a little confused as to why I wrote about a girl who did ballet and dreamed, instead, of playing soccer - while I played soccer already. Especially at the age of 1 1 when I was starting to realize I could never really be friends with any of the girls on my team - that I wasn't good enough at it. Up until middle school, however, I do remember being very much a tom-boy. I hated the color pink, only wore t-shirts and soccer shorts, and prided myself on being a part of a sport rather than something like gymnastics or dancing.

Now, I love dancing. I love cardio-based dancing included in my workouts, and I love dancing at a party or during similar occasions with friends. Maybe, somewhere deep down, it was flipped for me. Part of me wanted to do something like dancing when I was younger, instead of soccer. And the story was an outlet to try and convince me otherwise? That no, soccer has you running laps down a field in the rain with shorts, your jersey, under armor, and the intensity of the game keeping you warm. It made 11-year-old me look cool when I told friends or family about games or practices, made me look like I was a part of something bigger when I wore my jersey to school during spirit weeks. My parents supported me either way, so really, it was just me who was in the way of myself when trying new things.

Even though I felt incredibly outcasted on the team as someone who wasn’t as good as the other girls, or ran as fast as the other girls. Even though I was always put on defense and never as a forward, always watched the action from the back of the field or the sidelines. Even though running was truly really hard, even when I was in the best shape of my life - my lungs were never able to keep up with the rest of my body. Even when I played indoor soccer towards the end of my “career”, I’d dig the toe of my shoe into the pellets on the turf field, all the action taking place towards the other team’s goal.

Even with all the frustration, the tears, and the many moments of failure - I still tried to convince myself that I liked it and that I was meant to be doing it.

Beth Royal was the girl I both wanted to become and avoid becoming. Wanting to enjoy soccer, from Beth's perspective, but also wanting to have other outlets like dancing - my perspective now and maybe that side of me buried deep down then. And maybe I didn’t see it at the time, but it seems fairly obvious now, and I pity my younger self. Because while she - Beth and my younger self - had the opportunity, I still never took it.

Compare & Contrast

I blame college.

While developing my writing style, I always prided myself in descriptive writing. During my senior year of high school, in my English class, we were tasked with an essay with the theme “anything under the sun”. We could write about anything in any format we wanted - an exercise to move away from the traditional five-paragraph essay style we’re all used to in school - with the only requirement of including some amount of research to support our topic.

I decided to write about my fascination and morbid love for abandoned locations and buildings. Writing about how Mother Nature never fails to reclaim what was hers after humans abandon buildings, homes, schools, playgrounds, etc. The beauty of seeing regrowth in places that were once a concrete jungle of sorts. The curiosity of journeying into these long abandoned locations to still find history almost frozen, and lives forgotten. I told my essay as if I were visiting one of these locations, viewing the past through a camera lens and seeing the energy that used to roam the halls of an abandoned house, seeing the ghost of children playing hide and seek along a floral wallpapered hallway, and hiding themselves around wooden doorways. The golden glow of life illuminated the environment in a dream-like haze, the dust floating through the air almost sparkling in the sunlight that would bathe each room.

Only to lower the camera lens and see reality for what it really was. Molded ceilings, rotting floors, peeling floral wallpaper, and cracking wooden doorframes. Clothes and toys strewn about, a family fleeing - but why? A house abandoned, but why?

My English teacher came back to me with an A marked at the top of the paper and asked if she could use my essay as an example for future classes. But, not without also letting me know that as she was reading and grading my essay, a part that talked about the ghost children, she had something suddenly fall from a nearby cabinet, startling her - solidifying how much I was able to capture her and keep her reading, hungry for more.

Then, I started college.

I wouldn’t say my first year was when my voice was starting to dry up, it would have been rather foolish of me to not take any writing classes, filling the open slots I had in my schedule. I got so far that during my senior year, my advisor suggested I add a couple more writing classes to gain a Creative Writing minor, and I was more than happy to say yes. However, it was a Professional Copyediting class during my last semester senior year that both really helped and hurt my writing to this day.

Just as writing as a hobby wasn’t a concept to me as a kid, growing up and writing for fun, I never really considered the formatting, grammar, punctuation, and so on when I did write. I’d just - write. Of course, this shows in “The Princess and the Soccer Ball” as I’d cringe after reading it and realizing I’d go line after line after line in that journal without using a single comma. Granted, my structure and punctuation might not be a million times better than it was, but that class at least helped me to recognize the correct methods to utilize while writing and copyediting. Recognizing those errors, grammatical, punctuation, or otherwise. The more I worked to nail down the class, lessons, homework, and tests; I found my writing took a turn.

It was becoming too technical.

I was losing the descriptive nature of my writing, being able to string the right words together that would have the reader slowly leaning further and further into what would happen next. A melting effect where they’d finish a piece and realize just how involved they were.

And maybe that’s tooting my own horn, but - just as I’ve been taught to do as a Graphic Designer - I let my writing speak for itself.

I realized that after college when I started writing as a hobby again and not for classes, I’d finish with a piece and just…feel hollow. There would be no emotion evoked, no subtle pulling of the reader, or heart-wrenching scenes that enticed even me to read and write more.

It honestly really hurt to discover this as well. Knowing how much I loved writing before that class and before college, only to see it almost shriveling and drying up. I was focusing too much on the technicality of it, where to place each comma, instead of just allowing everything to flow. I’d completely forget that I could go back and edit, that it didn’t matter at the time of writing, and that I was allowed to miss a comma or two.

And for the first time, I just felt so lost when it came to writing. Thinking to myself constantly, how do I even fix something like that when everything I write feels too technical? How do I shift my concentration on where to place a punctuation mark to focusing, instead, on the emotions evoked and abstract experiences painted through words onto paper?

Needless to say, it’s been four years since I graduated college and I’m still trying to “fix” this.

I still pay attention to grammar, structure, and everything that makes writing legible; because all of the technicalities do help your writing flow. This was certainly something I’ve used to ease me back into writing. This and the use of a few writing websites, which helped me to stay consistent with ideas and keep me writing, even if it was the bare minimum. I’ve slowly been coming back to the writing style, watering these shriveled plants with the hopes of reviving them. The desire to write certainly hasn’t died yet! If anything, recently, it’s been a major outlet between the frustrations of life and the draining nature of my job.

And no matter how long it takes, whether or not my writing reflects what it was years ago, the passion I had for it still burns; brighter even more so than when I had first put the pencil to paper.


About the Creator

Nicole Fenn

Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.

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Comments (2)

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  • Darkos3 months ago

    I completely understand You beautifully written and Thank you for sharing this experience in such depth of it ! I hope You will stay light and free with it !

  • Alex H Mittelman 3 months ago

    Very well written! You have a very interesting life!!

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