I have been writing a very long time. As soon as I figured out what letters were, and how to make them, I started putting lots of them in my drawings. One of my earliest extant works is a drawing of my baby sister making a mess, and me looming over her saying, “Pots! On!” The whole left-to-right thing took me a while to get the hang of.
The narratives became a bit more complicated when I entered school. At seven, my teacher used to let me write poems on my own, just to keep me busy. At eight, I recall earning a Curious George sticker for a story about what I would do if I were invisible. In the story, I plotted going to the zoo and letting the monkeys out of their cages, so the sticker was particularly apropos. The next two grades were unhappy ones for me, but then, when I was eleven, I had Mrs. Chamberlain for a teacher.
I had never heard the phrase “creative writing” before, but Mrs. Chamberlain introduced it early and often. Our very first assignment of the year was to write “How I Spent My Summer Break” – with a twist. We were to tell nothing but lies. I went home and churned out five pages; I would have gone on longer but my hand was cramping and I ran out of time.
For the first time, I felt I had a real ally at school, someone who loved the things I loved and thought they were important. We kept journals every day. One of the kids’ parents was a writer; Mrs. Chamberlain had her come in and teach a short story writing unit. We wrote lots of poetry. For our big Middle Ages project, one of the options – the one I chose – was to write the journal of a serf. I got to read mine out loud to the class.
Then one day she jotted a simple note in response to a poem I wrote: Rachel, you are a real writer. And I was, just like that. It became my self-identity at once.
I wrote all through my teenage years, bad fantasy and science fiction novels in spiral notebooks. Somewhere along the line, though, other interests caught my attention and I didn’t write as much. I made comic books, which involves writing, but is a somewhat different skill. I worked in bookstores, and I never stopped reading. But writing, as such, was something I always intended to get to later.
Later finally came, and I’m glad it did. Getting published was a long road in itself, but that’s another story altogether. I want to just end with this:
This past spring I went to New York to meet my editor for the first time. I left my son with his grandparents while I was gone. On my way back home, I stopped at their house to collect him. Everyone was out when I reached the house, so I settled in to wait. The phone rang but I figured it couldn’t be for me, so I didn’t answer it. Someone began to leave a message on the answering machine. I recognized the voice and lunged for the phone.
It was Mrs. Chamberlain. She’d run into my dad at the arboretum, he’d told her my book was coming out soon, and she had just wanted to call and congratulate me.
I feel so lucky that I got a chance to thank her and tell her what her encouragement had meant to me. I tip my hat to teachers everywhere, who shape young lives and help us become what we may.
Please click HERE for a full list of Rachel Hartman’s books and links to buy from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com