I’m going to try a little experiment. For the next few weeks, I’m going to tell you how I got started in this business called writing. Each week will be a different leg in my journey. So join me and we’ll see what happened along the way.
Day 1: Hi! My name is Vicky Burkholder and I’m a writer. Gee, that sounds like an intro to a 12-step program of some sort. And it might as well be, because being a writer is not something you can help. You may get away from it once in a while, but if you are really a writer, you’re going to write, no matter what.
I could tell you I started writing stories from the time I could hold a crayon, and that would mostly be true, but I didn’t become a lover of books and the written word until about the third or fourth grade. I was what was referred to as a “slow reader”, which meant that no matter what cutesy name you put on it, I was in the bottom level of readers. And back then, we didn’t have “special” help. You either sank or swam on your own. So my dad decided to help me.
Let me explain something to you. Though my dad did graduate from high school, he skipped a several grades (back then, you could test out of a grade), so he missed out on some of the finer points of education. But he was a huge reader. He never went anywhere without a book or a crossword puzzle in hand. So when he took on my reading problems, it was very hands on. We did crossword puzzles together. We read books. When in the car, we played word games. We played Scrabble®. He made reading fun for me. And he had me write down my “stories”. The fun translated into my jumping from the lowest level to the advanced level in less than a year.
And I was hooked on writing.
I’d like to say that love translated into jobs and books and a writing career as I went on to and graduated from college (the first in my family), but unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out the way you planned.
There was marriage, and moves, and more moves (23 in all so far with one more on the horizon), and jobs and kids (4) and more school. But even with all that, writing was always in the background as I filled notebooks with my stories. I even won a couple of contests over the years, but it always took a backseat because “I was too busy.”
And that’s what happened on my way to being a novelist. Life. With four kids (two of whom were older foreign adoptees who spoke no English), going to school full time working on my Master’s degree, working part time as a TA, and a substitute teacher, I had no time for anything else. And yet, that was the year I won first place in a state contest for a short science fiction story I’d written.
While writing definitely took a back seat, I followed other creative outlets. Thanks to the activities of those four kids, I did a lot of sewing, learned to do natural cloth dyes, went on field trips (as a chaperone) where I learned about a lot of things. I can grow my own food, bake bread (and other things) from scratch, make natural dyes, know about first aid, and so much more, all of which I use in my writing. So, though the time was not spent writing, everything I did and learned has a place in my writing.
The year I decided to follow my dream was an interesting one. I was in a full-time job I hated. The oldest two were leaving for college, the middle one getting ready, the youngest just a year behind him. And hubby was going to school full-time as well as working full-time. It was the worst possible time for me to quit, but the family sat down and we did some figuring. If I stayed in my job just one more year, we’d be able to make things work. So that’s what I did. And with an end in sight, the job wasn’t quite as bad (that’s not true, but it sounds good!). When I had my exit interview with the company, they asked why I was leaving. Rather than give them the list of grievances why I was, I gave them the other truth. I was leaving to follow a dream. The head of personnel studied me, then smiled with a dreamy look in her eyes and said, “I wish I could do that.”
And thus began the next chapter in my writing life.