The first decision: Do you draw with it? Or do you write?
The second decision: What do you draw or write?
What subject moves you?
Suppose someone gave you a pen, and like in a fairy tale, you had to keep it moving until it ran dry.
Everything depends upon it.
Would you write about yourself?
Or draw someone born in your imagination?
Suppose someone gave you a magic pen.
Everything you wrote or drew would come true.
Would you think and plan before you ever wrote a word? Drew a face?
Or would you plunge right in, just let the words, the moving line, take you where they take you? Finding out what happens as you go along, pretending, or believing, or even pretending to believe, that the pen will
go on forever so any sad story can be rewritten or redrawn to have a happy ending?
Would you write or draw to please just yourself? Or other people?
What kind of writer or artist would you be?
I was maybe ten years old when I started writing. It was an oasis in a two or three-year period when my stepfather had an Alice-in-Wonderland experience of the schizophrenic kind, getting arrested for making a scene in the neighborhood, which necessitated a move to another house.
This was all embarrassing to my mother, and so, interesting to me. I began sitting around writing down what people in my family were saying and doing and my mom would walk past me and ask, in her sweet voice, what are you doing, Audrey? And I’d say, nothing, just writing stuff down.
And she wouldn’t even wonder about that.
Because I had a little brother who was always falling out of trees and breaking an arm, or chipping a tooth opening a pop bottle. He once fell into a hole deep enough the fire dept had to try to get him out, and the hole turned out to be an abandoned mine shaft and the Army Corp had to be called in and before the day was over he was on national TV. By the end of the day I knew my mother’s hair could stand on end.
And on a quiet afternoon, when she thought she had things pretty much under control, and she sat down on the porch to read a book, a neighbor might come by and say to my mother, that kid of yours has been going through my garbage. I caught him eating whipped cream I threw out three days ago. And my brother would yell, I did not! There were maggots on that whipped cream can! I don’t eat maggots!
And when my mother put us to bed, usually before dark, and she just about thought she’d caught a break, my little sister would get up in the middle of the night or at least some time after dark, they call this sleepwalking. She’d think she was going to the bathroom but she’d go sit down in the living room and pee on the couch. This wet spot was something of a mystery until the night my mother had fallen asleep on the couch, reading.
So it goes without saying she didn’t have much interest in what I was doing.
I was the easiest child she had.
Until the day my teacher asked us to write a story.
Mrs. Underdown said, Write about anything you want to.
I wrote about the day my mother and my stepfather had a big argument and he got so mad he put a hole in the wall with his fist. To tell you the truth, he’d given the wall a good thump before. This wasn’t so much a violent episode as a form of punctuation.
But we’d never had sheetrock walls before. Sheetrock was as new as the house we'd moved to, and it wasn’t thick and hard like a plaster wall. I can still remember the surprised look on his face. That was what I wrote about really, even more than the argument.
The whole episode seemed funny and I laughed and he made me spend the whole afternoon in my room. Which is when I did my homework: writing anything I wanted to.
And I got an A.
I brought it home and showed my mother.
She said, you are never ever to write something like this again.
Forever after, when she said, Audrey, what are you doing?
And now she was talking to me in the same suspicious tone she used with my little brother,
I would hide the story I was writing, and tell her I was reading.
Suppose someone gave you a pen.
And said you should write anything you want to.
Draw anything you want to.
Right off the top of your head. Don’t give it any thought at all. Just get that pen moving.
Audrey Couloumbis is the Newbery Honor-winning author of Getting Near to Baby. She sometimes writes sad stories with a happy ending, and she's published by St.Martin's Press, G.P. Putnam, and Random House. Look for her books at your favorite bookstore.
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