The Three Hurdles to Becoming A Decent Writer, And How It’s Possible to Surpass All Of Them By The Age of 12

I can’t remember how old I was when I started writing stories. I think I was inspired to start writing by my grandfather, who always came up with these really elaborate and compelling stories for my siblings and me so that we would be distracted from walking.

After one such story, I went home and had my mom start typing down a story for me. At half a page in, she asked me how much longer it would be; when I said it wasn’t nearly done, she told me I had to type it myself and left the room— so I gave up. I think I was in kindergarten, and I was at the point in typing where you have to do a scavenger hunt for each key and you get increasingly frustrated because your eyes seem to be skipping over the right key every single time you look over all of the letters on the keyboard.

Then, in first grade, I had a book report on Abraham Lincoln. I, being the amazing student that I was, left it until the very last moment and then handed in a half-assed assignment that had been cobbled together the night before. My teacher did not exactly approve and she had me redo the assignment over winter break. I have this crystal-clear memory of waking up in the Bahamas, taking my mom’s computer, and overlooking the bright, clear pools and palm trees as I slogged through my assignment, typing with my two index fingers and forgetting what the beginning of the sentence was about by the time I reached the end.

However, I slowly became more adept at typing — and by the time I finished the assignment, I was reasonably confident that I could get far better at typing if I just practiced more.

The first hurdle had been successfully passed (even if I’d spent a while standing behind it and shuffling my feet). Now, for the next one — actually developing my writing skills.

The main way I did this is by reading. I started reading Harry Potter in first grade with my dad, and I got a feel for style, word choices, and all of these little nuances I’d never picked up. I incorporated them into my stories and my vocabulary level basically exploded.

To give an example of how far Harry Potter boosted me, let’s zoom back to eighth grade. In my history class, my teacher used this site called “Newsela,” where you could select the level of difficulty you wanted the text to be. I always selected “MAX,” and it never told me the grade level, so I didn’t realize I was reading at the level of a high school senior until my teacher mentioned it in class one day.

Besides for Harry Potter, I read other books — Percy Jackson, for example, was (and is) another favorite, though it has a far lower reading level than the former. I also read a lot of random chapter books that I found lying around at home or in the library.

My third hurdle was writing and then sharing my writing; this was difficult for me. I wrote regularly for years and finally started posting my writing online when I was twelve, and though I frequently misused complex vocabulary in an attempt to feel smart, my writing was still far better than that of most kids my age. (If you’re interested in reading it, the book I put online is on Wattpad. It’s called I Am A Monster and my account name is candy176. I’m warning you in advance: It sucks. Like, a lot.)

Then, later in that year, I decided to publish a story in my school’s literary magazine. Originally, I’d planned to write it anonymously, but I nerve-wrackingly changed my mind and got it published over my own name. (This decision was pretty pointless, considering no one actually read the magazine anyway, but it meant a lot to me.) Finally, I started sharing my stories with one of my very close friends, who, besides for not judging me much, has always had a taste for gore that my stories measure up to. After that, it became easier and easier for me to share my writing, and now it’s really simple for me.

The reason for why I’d already progressed to all of this by the age of twelve was due to two things:

  1. Practice
  2. Reading

I’ve never made a conscious effort to keep writing; I just can’t keep the words inside. It was never difficult to brainstorm a story and patter away at the keyboard, especially because, since I’ve learned to type basically at the rate that I think, I no longer have a fear that my thoughts will get missed out in the time it takes for me to get everything down onto the screen.

As for reading, ever since my dad nudged me into reading Harry Potter in first grade, I’ve had an insatiable passion for reading and I do it all the time now. (And no, I don’t read online; nothing is better than having the heavy weight of a book in your hands and learning to recognize books by scent to the point where you say, Hey, this book smells exactly like this other book I’ve read! and you can figure out which book you’re being given with your eyes closed. Also, for your information, my battered copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows smells strangely modern.)

Since I disapprove with the phrase “practice makes perfect,” as no one is ever truly perfect at anything, and there are a million ways to write (as writing is an art and therefore cannot be “perfect”), I will consent to inform you that practice makes improvement.

“What has been your biggest influence on your creative writing?” Requested by Charles E Leggat

Professional writer, editor, and tutor; social justice advocate; Orthodox Jew; dedicated Grammar Auror