When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

I tell you a lot about my writing process, the types of things I write about, what I feel is important to being a writer, and how my temperament contributes to me—innately—being a writer. However, I haven’t really gotten into when I realized I wanted to be a writer or what drew me to it in the first place. I think, in part, that’s because there wasn’t some aha! moment where my destiny was in front of me and I just knew it. I’m not sure most people have that experience, but there were definitely moments along the way that sealed my decision to be a writer.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: As I mentioned, I didn’t necessarily “first” realize it at any one point. I did however realize more and more that it was a strength of mine throughout childhood and adolescence. I was selective mute when I was younger. (You can read more about that here.) I was never comfortable speaking to anyone that wasn’t a close friend or immediate family member, so I would write notes as my responses or to let people outside my inner circle know how I felt about things or what was happening. These are my earliest memories of written words working in my favor. I was able to express myself in a way that wasn’t so scary, without fear of ridicule or judgement.

I didn’t think about my selective mutism as the reason for my writing passion later in life again—not until I really started pursuing writing. As I have also mentioned, I was a competitive tennis player throughout my youth and into college. Tennis took pretty much all of my focus. Although I always enjoyed reading and writing, and would sometimes write short stories or poems as a child or teenager, I didn’t think much of it, because tennis was everything during those times. Of course, like any young competitive tennis player I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I got older. I realized pretty early that probably wouldn’t happen, but I still trained like crazy to improve so that I could compete in college. I wasn’t thinking about what came after college or anything else, just tennis getting me there and tennis being something I needed to keep pursuing. By junior year of college, I still didn’t have a major and I needed to declare one as a requirement. I found myself deciding between two things—English (which I was actually good at) and Business (a more sensible choice, I suppose, which was my reasoning). I signed up for an Economics class and I spent 45 minutes having not one clue of anything that was said. I promptly dropped the class and declared my major in English. There was no writing major at Tulane, but I’m sure if there was I would’ve majored in that. I always loved the writing part of English, not the analyzing literature part necessarily.

I was able to take one creative writing course during my junior year of college and I absolutely loved it. My professor made it fun and laid back and I started to actually tap into writing stories—like real fiction, not essays about Shakespeare or the Brontes—for the first time since I was a teenager. The positive feelings of creating fiction stayed with me, flowing through my fingertips easily. I actually liked a class in school (I wasn’t a very good student). I started on the idea for my first book during my senior year of college, a few months after my creative writing class; I wanted to keep writing (only during Christmas break though because tennis was still at the forefront, though I was starting to dislike it a lot by now—update: I like tennis again). I still had no idea what I wanted to do after college by the time I was a senior so I applied to a bunch of MFA programs in New York, deciding that I would learn more about what it took to be a writer and improve upon what I was really just getting started at.

Even though I had a rocky start in my MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College—solely because I was so anxious about the group settings and having to critique my peers’ work and talk in class, etc—the writing side was never what I disliked or had anxiety over, and ever since then, I knew I was doing what I should be doing. There was A LOT of doubt along the way (in myself) there still is, but I never questioned my love for writing—just whether I was actually any good. Despite having other jobs and doing a lot of freelance editing work, I know that writing will always be my biggest passion. I’m not sure whether writing or tennis was my first passion or if maybe they were shared—one taking the spotlight over the other at different times in my life. But, when I think back to the selective mute child who only found solace in writing her thoughts out—I think I’ve gotten it right now. I was always a writer. Speaking words failed me many times, but writing them never did. And I guess, I first realized I wanted to be a writer before I was even capable of realizing things—because it was simply what I needed to do.