There are a lot of things that people say to me. People say good things, they say bad things. They say nice things, they say mean things. People are encouraging, people are degrading. They are both wonderfully kind and horribly cruel.
There are many things I don’t know. I don’t know calculus. I can’t wrap my head around quantum physics. There are still certain household tasks I don’t know how to perform. But the one thing I do know from my limited experience is that the cruelest thing you could ever say is to call somebody’s passion a waste of time.
The first time I encountered those words was in the either the first or second grade (forgive me, my memories get fuzzy at times). At the time, I had just learned to read, and had begun to enjoy reading immensely. So much that I’d often bring a book everywhere, even if it meant bringing it outside during recess.
So there I was, sitting on a bench with my book when a kid came up and asked me, “Don’t you ever get bored?”
I closed the book with a sigh, and looked him in the eyes. “Not really. Reading is fun. Don’t you like reading?”
He replied bluntly, “Reading is a waste of time. I play with my friends.” He turned around and ran back towards the playground, his light up Skechers flashing wildly.
That was the first time I’d been told that I was wasting my time, and it certainly wasn’t the last. In the first case, it was a fellow kid who told me that, and I wasn’t too bothered by it. I knew that children tend to blurt out the first thing on their mind without really thinking about it, and while they occasionally managed to be unintentionally rude or cruel, they usually didn’t mean it. But as the years went on, I grew to know that there were people that meant what they said, whether it was good intentioned or bad.
Other situations where I’d been told that I was wasting my time were a lot more recent.
In the eighth grade, I was having a lot of trouble with my honors classes after a year of academic lethargy in all regular classes. I was still getting good marks, but it was getting much harder to keep up with the pace of honors classes.
I remember my own mother remarking, “You know, it probably wouldn’t have been as difficult if you spent less time reading last year, and more time studying. That, or if you’d read more nonfiction than all that unwholesome fantasy and science fiction.”
I remember hearing that and being absolutely devastated. My mom was really the first person that got me to read, and had always encouraged me to read. The fact that she was suddenly criticizing my reading choices was disheartening, to say in the least. Seventh grade was one of the years I read the most, but the combination of piling schoolwork and my mom’s disapproval slowed my recreational reading from a roaring stream to a leaky faucet. Not dead, but almost.
Then came ninth grade financial literacy. We had a project in which we were told to research a career we were interested in. Being a mixed class where honors and regular kids were stuck together, the career choices that everyone made were incredibly diverse: news anchors, engineers, statisticians, athletes, lawyers, dentists… Most had one thing in common though: these were all jobs that made a lot of money. All of this made my career choice stick out like a sore thumb: novelist. From what I remember, a lot of kids looked at my powerpoint with a mixture of perplexity and pity. Only an average of $60,250 a year? Why would anyone want a job like that when you can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars doing other jobs?
One kid at my table tried to tell me in the nicest way possible, “You know, writers don’t really make a lot of money, unless you end up making a bestseller, which is incredibly rare. Don’t you want a job that can help you better support your family?”
He was trying to be nice, I know he was, but that came as another emotional blow. Here was another person, telling me that spending time on what I wanted to do was a waste of time. And other people’s responses to my career choice weren’t much better. “Generally, jobs in the humanities aren’t doing very well. Math and science degrees are where to go. You say that you don’t care about the income you bring in, but you’re only saying that because you don’t have to pay bills. Get a dose of reality, Janice. You won’t make it out there with that approach.”
I believe it was that year I truly got into writing.
There are several important years in my life. One, was in the fourth grade, when I read a book called The School Story by Andrew Clements and decided to be a writer. Another was in the seventh grade, when my English teacher encouraged me to write and gave me constructive criticism on my creative writing. Eighth grade was when I first joined Teen Ink, and was given a taste of Internet publishing. And ninth grade was when I began officially writing.
I’ll admit, I have attempted to write before the ninth grade before. But most of it wasn’t out of my own volition. If you look at my pre-2014 writing, you’ll see that most of it is school assigned, and therefore, boring. There are many essays. There are a couple of halfhearted attempts at stories. There are a series of failed journals and diaries (I shudder to think of all the pent up emotions I get when I read old diaries. Mostly regret). And there’s one fantasy story I attempted to write in the third grade about kids that get trapped in a magical land called… Magicland. Clearly, my creativity knew no bounds in my childhood.
Anyway, you can see that I’d decided to be a writer for a long time. I attempted to write. I failed most of the time. Why was that?
While some may claim that it was because of my opposition, the people that told me that reading and writing was a waste of time, I’d have to disagree. It was actually because of my lack of opposition.
Huh? You must be scratching your head, wondering what I could possibly mean.
As I said, I decided I wanted to be a writer since elementary school. By then, I’d already read a lot, more books than I could possibly count. I had all the tools for writing, the plots, the word choices, the grammar, the prose, but I was missing one key thing: inspiration.
I had no idea where to start, and that is where my opposition kicked in. You know, saying that you want to do something is all fine and well, but you can’t get closer to achieving your goals without working at it. And there was no better motivation for me to write than the people who told me I couldn’t, shouldn’t write.
In the ninth grade, I joined a free writing workshop at my local library on a whim, not knowing what to expect. This was the first time I’d shown my writing to anyone other than teachers, parents, friends. I wasn’t expecting anything. But I think I learned more about writing at that workshop than I have anywhere else.
I started out with a half hearted idea about a virus that lived in a computer game, a virus that was lonely and wanted friends in the “real world.” I showed it to my writing instructor, and she loved it, pointing out good points, pointing out bad points, and giving me suggestions on how to make it better.
Encouraged, I went to improving it at a breakneck pace, completely rewriting certain parts, adding parts that came to my head, adding things I hadn’t thought of before, and voila! The story I had worked on all Thanksgiving Break became one of my greatest accomplishments: Code: Beyond the Screen.
I finished it the week before the workshop ended, and besides some minor corrections, my instructor gave me mainly positive feedback. At the end of the workshop, she gave me and all the other writers at the workshop, a lovely printed book with all our works in it and wished us luck on our writing endeavors.
Now I was feeling reckless, and I decided to print out several printed copies of my story to show to my school friends, and they loved it. Then, I grew even more reckless and thought, What if I put this story on the Internet?
And thus, my Teen Ink persona was born. I named myself Jtatsu after my first initial and a Japanese synonym of my last name, and didn’t become Internet famous per se, but gained a few loyal followers that still follow me to this day. I honestly can’t thank Teen Ink enough for having me meet such wonderful writers, and allowing me an easy outlet for my writing.
It was also partially because of Teen Ink that I joined the National Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, where I submitted four pieces and managed to get both a Gold Key and an Honorable Mention. While I did not make it to the National level, this competition made me realize that my writing has potential, and that I’m doing something right.
Now, I can’t say it’s going to be easy. It’s true I’m not going to be a bestseller, not quickly, at least. It’s true I’m not going to gain a lot of income. Heck, at times, I might think I’m wasting my time. But I’m going to be working at doing something I love, and that’s enough for me.
As a last thank you, I want to say thank you to all those who opposed me throughout the years. Without you, I could have never got this far. Thank you for allowing me to truly realize that writing is not a waste of time.