• Your Childhood Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 30 comments

    Discussion questions: What were some of your formative childhood experiences with writing? What inspired you (if you remember!) to experiment with writing? Do you see any of your adult self in your juvenilia? If you could go back and give your childhood self one piece of writing advice, what would it be? Let us know in the comments.


    In his Q&A, our newest writing coach and consultant, John Sibley Williams, writes about his first experience with poetry: “It was summer in New York and I was sitting by a lake with my feet dragging through the current when suddenly, without my knowing what I was doing, I began writing something that obviously wasn’t a story. No plot. No characters,” he writes.

    “What was it? Impressions. Colors. Emotions. Strange images … And I didn’t have any paper, so I used a marker to write a series of phrases on my arm. Then they poured onto my leg. Then I realized I needed paper. I ran back to the car, took out a little notebook, and spent hours emptying myself of visions and fears and joys I don’t think I even knew I had.”

    I love stories like this, where a young person stumbles across a new talent through accident and experimentation.

    It made me revisit my own Q&A, which I filled out so long ago now. (Because WriteByNight just turned ten years old! Did you miss it?) In it, I said, “As a kid I wrote dozens of stories about baseball, straightforward play-by-play narratives: ‘Here’s the pitch. Strike one! Here’s the next pitch. It’s a ball.’”

    That’s easy, and fun, for me to mock, but those baseball stories were my first attempts at writing something outside the classroom. Writing something just because I wanted to. For fun. And excitement! They used to rile me up.

    I’d grown up a rabid Milwaukee Brewers fan, and I listened to Bob Uecker call games on the radio as often as I could. So it’s no surprise that many of Uecker’s catchphrases, and even his rhythms, show up in that work. Lots of pitches were “right down Main Street.” Fly balls were accompanied by “Get up, get up and get outta here… Gone!” And the stories always featured real-life Brewer players, your Robin Younts and Paul Molitors and Jimmy Gantners.

    I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experimenting with storytelling. And drama. Every game I wrote about, win or lose, climaxed with a bottom-of-the-9th rally by the Brewers. I was mimicking the world around me, but I was putting my own spin on it.

    Nearly three decades later, baseball still shows up in most of my fiction. The sentences and plots are constructed more artfully (arguably), but many of the themes — failure, redemption — are the same.

    If there’s any advice I would give to that twelve-year-old self, I suppose it would be: Keep at it. Keep pursuing your interest in writing. Because at some point I got too cool for writing fiction — from my early teens until a college class in my late twenties, I almost never wrote, outside of school assignments.

    Then again, maybe it has all worked out the way it was supposed to. The novel I’m writing now would’ve had a much different –and, I think, much worse — look if I’d started it in my twenties. Or even earlier in my thirties.

    And it’s not like the layoff affected my interests. Early in Chapter 2, a bunch of characters are sitting around a bar listening to a Brewers game on the radio.

    It’s 1987, and Robin Yount is at the plate.

    Bob Uecker is calling the play-by-play.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Hans De Leo

    There wasn’t much in the way of childhood writing for me. I wrote only when assigned to do so in school. I’m a bit of a ‘late bloomer’. Okay, maybe more than a bit. I was in my late 30’s before I decided to explore my creative side, after having a dream in which I fought (something) with a flaming sword. I decided to write a story around that. And no, that story isn’t published, and I’m completely re-working the concept because my literary horizons have been expanded far beyond that story since then. My formative years I spent reading.… Read more »


    I agree with your advice to keep the stuff you wrote as a child. At 14 I whipped off a poem about wasting time. It was really good and my teacher had it published in a teaching journal, but I did’t keep a copy and she never gave it back to me. During that time, I also wrote several short stories for fun and used them as classwork when I was too lazy to write a new one. Of course, I have no copies of those early scribblings. My mother had kept one I wrote from second grade, but like… Read more »


    I didn’t pick up writing again until I was 64. maybe it was a good thing as I experienced a lot of life and had years of daydreams to pull from. Today, my computer draws me to it and I have to write. It is my catharsis for my day and I enjoy it. Yes, I did come out of the corner. I went to a class reunion and a boy who had liked me and never told about it in high school said he liked the new me who was outgoing and very verbal. I actually hand out business… Read more »


    Not sure how old I was, so I will guess somewhere between 10 and 12, I took part in a series of children’s poetry workshops at a local community college. The teacher was a locally well known poet and he was great with kids! A handful of my poems from those workshops were published in the Chicago Tribune. From the very beginning I was taught by that workshop teacher and the rest of them to cut out any and all “un-necessary” words… I still use this practice in my poetry today…


    Thanks and yes, much to the chagrin of my husband, I hang on to things (cough, pack-rat) so I think I do still have the newspaper clippings filed right there with my report cards from that time….


    Brewers game on the bar radio–very cool image. In grade school (early 1960s) I wrote a poem about UFOs that my teacher read to the class. Then I wrote a story about a dog that saved his master from a bear or something (Disney influence), which was also read to the class. That’s as far as I got in early childhood with trying to write creatively. The rest of the time I drew pictures (good, not great). As a teenager, I once determined I would write a superhero story. I thought, and thought, but could not come up with a… Read more »


    I came back to writing when I returned to college as an adult (pursuing computer science) around the age of 27. I determined to write as well in as I could in my coursework because I knew it would be required of me. I was most moved by my literature classes and so studied creative writing “on the side” for years. A correspondence course in novel-writing launched the post-apocalyptic science fiction I’m writing now. Also, I took other courses and wrote fiction, blog posts, short stories, etc as much as I could. Retired now, writing is what I do.


    Basically, yes. There was a course-book and supplemental books that went with it. I worked the exercises in the course-book, which were the design and first chapters of a novel, and my assigned instructor would critique my work. Acutally, the object of the course was to produce a “partial,” which was (as I recall) an outline, a synopsis, and the first three chapters. I think that partials were a common requirement from publishers and agents at one time. Maybe not so much now. The courese was helpful for me. That was the Long Ridge Writers Group. I think they’re now… Read more »


    I’ve worked on it ever since, though the idea has much evolved. In writing it, I’ve learned to write (for however much I’ve learned).

    José Skinner

    I wrote a novel at age 18 or 19 under the Dunning-Kruger effect. That is, I deemed myself competent to the task because I was too ignorant to know what true competence involved (I wasn’t that well-read, and certainly had never taken a writing course). I found the ms. a few years ago while cleaning out a closet at my mom’s house. It wasn’t even good enough to be embarrassing, if that make any sense. I do remember it being a breeze to write, however.

    david lemke

    I did something dumb when I was a kid; I would not be able to go to sleep because my brain was busy writing poems, the old kind with rhythm and rhyme. This happened more then once and I was impressed with me, but I never wrote them down. Oh well. I had several poems published in the Lance, the high school literary magazine. When I was 14, there was an English teacher I liked and she was also teaching creative writing. I wrote and submitted a space opera sf story. Amazing tales(I think) sent me back a generic, “does… Read more »

    david lemke

    I don’t think I stopped writing, though I did slow down. I have old notebooks and folders full of stuff. I doubt there’s anything useful, but I probably should dig it all out and look it over, since I kept it all for all these years. Maybe I’ll surprise me.


    Even before I could hold a pencil, I created stories. As the 1st born grandchild in an extended family, I always had an audience. Lately, I witness grown-ups say, “Good job,” to their children while checking their texts. But, I could get grandma & an aunt or 2, to stop folding laundry or stirring pots as I read aloud my tales of princesses who just happened to live on Thatford Avenue too. I think that’s why writing alone in predawn quietness & later, presenting an evening book talk to an awaiting audience is, for me–darn wonderful.


    You’re right! They could have kept stirring, but they stopped to give me their attention. I hadn’t realized how profound that was. –and yes again, I’ve written all my life-

    Kevin Wozniak

    Age 12 I got shuffled off to a new family and new school. Hated it. Got assigned to read Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”, to be accompanied by a poem and drawing about the book. True to form, I ripped through the book quickly and forgot about the homework. The morning the assignment was due, I was reminded of it on the school bus. I pulled a notebook out of my bookbag and banged out a poem just to avoid another “F”. Later, in study hall I recopied the rough draft and drew a crappy picture to accompany it (I had and… Read more »


    No to both… but I remember the drawing had a pretty cool giant scorpion (bugs are easy even if you can’t draw), and a giant gray pearl equal in size to the sun all dwarfing my tiny people (save me the Freudian interpretation, please. I know I’m nuts). The whole occurrence was a bloody nuisance, but it made me realize I could write a passable assignment quickly if I needed to (a skill that served me well later in high school when I sold English homework made to order). In other news, more recently I dated an art teacher who… Read more »


    I distinctly remember writing three different essays for three different kids about “I Never Loved Your Mind” by Paul Zindel and also about “The Temple of Gold”. I had a sort of gentleman’s agreement with the English teacher that year…as long as I contributed a timely assignment, he didn’t care what it was about. So when I got burned out writing other people’s papers I would submit something completely different for my own. Mr. B would occasionally mention that I needed to learn to follow directions, but I maintained my “A” average. I think he was aware of the deception… Read more »

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