January 23, 2023

Staples and Crayons

         How long have you been writing?  Authors hear this question a lot, and it arose again during the author question-and-chat period following the most recent Strong Women-Strange Worlds group author reading.  This time, though, a funny pattern became apparent among the answers.  I always tell people that I’ve been writing - and wanting to be a writer - for as long as I can remember.  But the first author to answer at this event said that although lots of authors seem to have been making little books out of staples and crayons since they were kids, she had really only started writing in 2012.  When all the other authors chimed in, it seemed as if every author there had either been a staples and crayons kid, or had also begun writing in 2012!  Okay, perhaps not all 2012, but there was a definite bivalent pattern.  Listening to the chat, I thought it might be fun to share my own earliest efforts at making books, since I was definitely one of those staples and crayons kids.
        My mother not only has a PhD in history, but also comes from a long line of pack rats, so she kept a fair sampling of my childhood projects, for which I am very grateful.  It gives me a good chuckle at my own early efforts, and it allows me to share a few with you.  Although the original idea behind this post was not just about early story-writing, but specifically about the attempt to make actual little books, I’m starting with the first proper story I can find.  I wrote and illustrated this at the age of four and a half, and in case you can’t follow, the story begins in the middle of the page, goes to the bottom, then up to the top, then to the middle and down again.  It reads “Once-upon a time in the sea there was 5 octopuses.  And the octopuses 
played.”  In case you’re thinking this isn’t really a story, I would like to point out that anything beginning
 “Once upon a time” is definitely a story.  I will also direct your attention to The Happy Little Elephant, a prior post examining a story written about two years later, and the similar weakness of its plot.
        But next up is the first actual “book” I can find among the stuff my mother saved.  It’s a 12-page codex entitled Two Dogs (if you correct the spelling) and written, as my mother noted, all by myself at the age of five and a half.  I point out that it was made with scrap paper that already had writing on it.  That was pretty standard for my creations, and Young Me had a tendency to hoard and treasure any paper that was actually clean and blank on both sides.  (To be honest, I kind of still do!)
        I wrote and “published” Anne’s Fairy Tales right around my seventh birthday.  The picture shows the cover and the beginning of the second tale.  You can see that I was not breaking any new ground in my stories!  I was still obsessed with fairy tales when I wrote and bound The Moon Pearl.  I also include a view of A Book of Poems, also all quite terrible, but very enthusiastic.  And I include, too, a picture of some higher-quality  efforts as I got older and continued my making of books unabated.
        So what’s the point of all this?  Well, it does in fact confirm what I always tell people, which is that I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember.  It also shows that my love of fantasy and love of poetry have been 
there right from the start (as well as a love of animals).  More generally, though, these early stories and poems of mine illustrate that what you read is the raw material that will be turned into what you write.  I don’t really have a sense of whether these earliest writings were particularly good for the age I was, but I do know that my teachers and parents were very encouraging, and perhaps that’s the last important point: that if a kid has something they love, whether or not they seem to be prodigiously talented at it, they should 
be encouraged.  It will give them the strength to build their dreams which, I can attest, is an endeavor that should never be completed.  I’m still taking delight in writing my stories and making my little books.

[Pictures: Octopuses, story by AEGN, January 1975;

Two Dogs, book by AEGN, April 1976;

Anne’s Fairy Tales, book by AEGN, July 1977;

A Book of Poems, book by AEGN, fall 1978;

The Moon Pearl, book by AEGN, spring 1979;

Bound books by AEGN from 1983-1985.]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Oh this is interesting. I have always written stories, but not until I got children of my own did I ever draw front pages or bind/staple them into something resembling books. Before that I just wrote, like you on old papers, preferably already-used ones. Very early on I got myself an old typewriter because my handwriting was atrocious ;) I dreamt of a typewriter, that wrote what I said (this was back in the late 60es, early 70es, so no computers as yet). I wrote stories of cats, and poems on drunken sons, pirates, and far away countries and wonderful adventures. I still write about all this - well not so much of cats any more. And anything that begins "Once upon a time" IS a story!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Bring back the cats, Charlotte! lol

Cari Lyn Jones said...

Oh, I was absolutely a staples and crayons kind of kid! Somewhere, probably very deep in my filing cabinets, I have those little books that I put together. After having seen yours, I'm definitely going to have to dig them out :)
In fact, I have drawers filled with binders and loose papers covered in sketches, story ideas and daydreams going back as far as I can remember. And you know what, when I read them I can see exactly what kind of books I was into during that time. Because you're right, what I was reading definitely came through in the stories that I was creating.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cari Lyn. I'd love to see your little books if you ever find them!