Becoming a Writer

Read about Gabrielle Plainte's evolution in writing

By Gabrielle Plainte

As a child, I started writing even before I could hold a pen. I wove stories about monsters under the bed and princesses in castles, fantasies of a three-year-old girl’s mind. My mother wrote them down for me, despite her exhaustion from work. I tried to illustrate my stories, a child’s inept attempt at creating a picture book. However, the results didn’t matter; it was in those years, before I knew who I was or what I would become, that my love of storytelling was born.

My father took me on hikes when I was a young child. I loved every moment of it, recording the different smells of the flowers, the variety of trees in the forest, and the wild animals we saw in my mind. I wanted to remember the entire trip, frozen forever in perfect detail. I knew of one way to do that, write it down.

My mother sat with me as I recalled our hike, typing each important detail into our ancient computer. In times of boredom, I would read these documents, remembering elements of my hike long forgotten. I had found a way to preserve my trips for eternity.

As I reached pre-adolescence, I spent less time writing and more time absorbed in fantasy books. My life at school was not how I had pictured it, a girl with shifting friendships and a loneliness that I would have given anything to escape. When I read books, I was someone else: a girl with mystical powers, a hero, loved and adored by her friends and family. Someone who went on adventures in distant lands, places much more fascinating than my suburban town.

Reading became my portal out of Sterling, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. In eighth-grade, I wrote down the titles and authors of each book I consumed for a year. The number totaled to over two hundred.

Adult life has gotten in the way of spending time as much time with books as my companion. However, I am still an avid reader, indulging not only in fantasy novels, but memoirs, historical fiction, literary fiction, astronomy, psychology, and animal care.

Reading the works of professional writers has given me the tools I need to develop my own writing. I consider how other writers use dialog and description to create gripping plot and realistic characters. For scientific writing, I find it important to note how authors, often Ph.Ds in their fields, weave a narrative that is both interesting and understandable to lay readers. But most of all, reading the stories of other writers gives me the desire to tell my own.

When I was a teenager, I started a few stories that were never finished. More often, I spent time writing poems, which were really spells. I was a Wiccan, and part of being a Wiccan is doing spells for aspects of your life that you wish to change. I found the spells in my spell books were not specific enough to fit my needs, so I decided to create my own. This can be a difficult task, as certain colors, plants, and phrases are used symbols for certain types of spells.

For example, mentioning water can mean emotions or depth, while purple represents clarity. Many spells are also rhythmic, sounding almost a song when spoken aloud. I spent many late hours counting beats on my fingers, switching words around until it fit.

In my junior year of high school, I took Romantic Literature with Mr. Tarmey. It was both the first English class I got to choose and the first one I enjoyed. My teacher assigned short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. He required us not only to understand the story and plot, but to relate the physical descriptions in the story to its tone. Mr. Tarmey would ask us which lines foreshadowed what specific plot events.

What other students found impossible, I found challenging and invigorating. I strove to answer my teacher’s questions in this class, unlike my other classes. Writing gained new depths for me; it was not only about telling the story, but how the story was told.

In high school, I toyed with the idea of becoming a writer. Afterwards, like many other dreams I had, that fell to the wayside. I spent little time writing or reading, until I began going to college for my associates degree. I had the impossible dream of becoming a biotech engineer and curing aging. Reality eventually crept in, and I found my home among the psychology department.

Writing papers became a common feature of my daily existence, like sleeping or taking a shower. Surprisingly, I found myself secretly enjoying the essays I had to write, though I would never admit that to my friends or family. Many of the essays required me to voice my ideas or opinions and delve deeper into topics than we covered in class. I could argue an idea or viewpoint that mattered, in a way other than was taught. It was liberating.

Academic writing is still an activity that I indulge in often. I enjoy having a medium to voice my ideas, especially when I have the flexibility to do so. Last semester, for example, I wrote a research review on animal-assisted therapy. The paper covered multiple studies about using animals in therapy, where the animal’s presence seemed to improve symptoms for many of the patients. Writing about studies can be especially dry, but I managed to include how my own cats are therapeutic for me.

No matter what type of writing it is, there is always a story to be told. In my final year of Quinsigamond Community College, I needed to take a writing elective to fulfill a requirement. My mother read the course catalogue and suggest creative writing, remembering how interested I was in storytelling as a child. I reluctantly agreed, mostly because none of the other English classes seemed interesting.

I ended up in Professor Stazinski’s creative writing class. The course required me to write two poems, a short story, as well as other forms of creative writing. The students had to read and critique each other’s short stories, which would be discussed in class.

I dreaded these days; I wanted to write, but I really preferred if nobody would ever read my writing. Discussing it in class was the nail in the coffin. I got a B in my speaking course because I couldn’t stop shaking in front of the class!

What kept me from finding a black hole to jump in was my professor. He had told me that my poems and scenes I had written were well-done, and I believed him. I frequently asked questions in class, absorbing all the rules and requirements that my short story needed.

I thought maybe there I was a chance others would appreciate “Dahlia,” my short story that dealt with sexuality and romance. However, I feared it may also it be boring or even offensive to students, but I was wrong. Though it wasn’t perfect on the first draft, it was entertaining to both them and my professor. Writing was no longer personal, and it became something to do for others, not only myself. The next semester, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for Writing Fiction, despite knowing that other students would have to read my short story.

After graduating QCC, I did not immediately pursue writing, as my creative writing professor had suggested. I transferred to UMass Amherst for the following fall semester. However, they required too many classes for me to pursue both writing and psychology with a concentration in neuroscience. It did not take long for the hour-and-a-half commute and large classes sizes to become overwhelming, so I transferred to Worcester State for the spring semester.

Worcester State had a credit requirement for a certain number of classes taken at their school, more than I needed for my psychology degree. My guidance counselor suggested that I pick a up a minor, and I immediately signed up for a minor in writing. Once again, as if by fate, I was thrust back into the world of writing.

One of the classes I took for my minor was a memoir writing class, taught by Dr. Bidinger. Like my creative writing class, I was apprehensive about this one. All students were required to write a short memoir, which would be shared with the entire class. Students would critique and edit each memoir, offering constructive suggestions.

Dr. Bidinger taught us that memoirs were not vanilla events of everyday life, they were real, life-changing stories. The real part is what scared me. I had to write about the thing I hated to write about most: myself. My phobia of public speaking intact, I dreaded the day the class discussion about my memoir would come.

Since the Earth will not stop rotating because I don’t want to write a memoir, the time came where I had to sit down and write about my middle school years. The struggles with friends I had during those years was something I wanted to escape, not write about. For the sake of my grade, I delved into my past, heart racing as my fingers slammed on the keyboard. I saw connections between my past and present that I didn’t realize existed.

The process was arduous and difficult, but the ends justified the means. My memoir was better than I expected, with many students stating it showed courage to write about my experiences. It gave meaning to my pain, transforming a pile of garbage into a work of art. Me, as the subject of my own writing, has given me gifts that I never expected.

I am still on the journey of becoming a writer. I wish I wrote more in spare time, filling up my terabyte hard drive with fantasy lands and descriptions of the places I visit. As I attempted to when I was younger, I desire to incorporate the photos that I take with essays about places I have gone. One day, after graduate school, I will be writing about the studies I conduct as neuroscientist. Perhaps there is even a fantasy novel in my future as well. Ten years from now, these pages will be filled with more stories of my evolution as a writer, ones even my mind cannot fathom.

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