By Daniel Wheatley
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in the written word (I accidentally found our family’s collection of Edgar Allan Poe tales at age 8 and was halfway through its lurid pages before my horrified mother realized and reshelved it to a much higher location) but it took me some time to get comfortable with the term writer. To me, books were unattainable things. Sure, I wrote a few stories on notebook paper and told stories about My Summer Vacation for elementary school assignments, but those weren’t really books and they didn’t really make me a writer. I had to wear extra-thick eyeglasses as a child, but even I could see the difference between the chicken scratch I wrote and the cloth-bound, foil-stamped, crisply printed books in our library. Yes, having a book was reserved for other people.
That changed in fifth grade. We were reading The Phantom Tollbooth and like all my literature-related classes, I was having a great time. But when we finished, instead of assigning us a book report like I expected, our teacher handed down something else: Write a new chapter. I stared at it. A new chapter? But the book was finished—it was sitting right there on my desk, all neatly bound and trimmed, and complete cover to cover. I couldn’t write a new chapter, I wasn’t really an author.
But being a diligent student, after saying a few apologies to the Book Police for daring to mess around with a finished book, I dug in. Well, you can probably guess it didn’t take long to realize not only was it perfectly fine for me to write a new chapter—I had trouble stopping. All together, I turned in about six pages of exuberent handwriting detailing Milo’s sidetrip to Wackyland (a place where you must pole vault everywhere). After that, the floodgates were open. I was a writer now, and I was going to have my own book someday.
There’s no entry test to be a writer. No one’s going to ask you to put together a CV or a list of references beforehand. As I found out that day back in fifth grade, all you really need to do to be a writer is write. That’s what keeps me coming back—the idea that anyone with a story can capture it and put their book alongside all the other names on the shelf. It takes practice and time, but in the end, even little fifth-grade Daniel Wheatley can tell stories too.
Daniel Wheatley worked as a financial news proofreader and copy editor before making the transition to editor at Mascot Books, a hybrid self-publisher in Herndon, Virginia. When not helping other writers achieve their dreams, he enjoys teaching swing dancing and collecting cheesy movies. He is the author of The Zanna Function (Flux Books).