The most prestigious writing award I ever won was for a story I wrote in high school called “Pity the Unicorns.” Scholastic gave me an “Honorable Mention” and included it in their annual writing journal.
My school sent the announcement to my brother instead of to me. He passed it along, making sure to make fun of my pen name in the process.
In his defense, I’m sure he was as offended at being confused for me as I was at being invisible for my own award.
Later in high school, I submitted a short story to a local newspaper contest. I won, but I never got the award money. I only found out about the victory because someone happened to see it in print.
The newspaper went out of business shortly thereafter.
It printed my story out of order, too.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I wrote a novel. I submitted it to some small presses. The second one I sent it to accepted it for publication.
My father told me that that was wonderful, but that I was too good of a writer to ever be commercially successful.
I stopped writing as a serious, focused, organized thing.
Now I write things start-stop. I have periods where I’ve written a lot of stuff that I’m proud of. I have long periods where I write nothing at all.
So many people over my life have told me I’m depriving the world of my gift.
“Gift” is the German word for “poison”. It’s not a false cognate: They’re etymologically related.
German is a dark language.
Rewind: When I was very young, I started writing a story called “The Mysterious Monster”. Except I didn’t know how to spell, so I wrote “Mistress”, and my father wouldn’t tell me why that was so funny.
Years later, he got mad at me for losing a spelling bee on the word “lavatory”. Because I spelled it “lavoratory”. Because he’d made a big deal during practice about how it’s laBORatory but not laVORatory, and that just got stuck in my head and I panicked.
Years later, he was confused that I didn’t know how to spell “hors d’oeuvre” even though he was much older than I was and he didn’t know how to spell it either.
I’m depriving the world of my gift, but more importantly, I’m depriving myself of the joy of fully embracing it.
And “gift” is still the German word for “poison”, but “poisson” is the French word for “fish”, and that is a false cognate.