It’s possible that I knew it instinctively during second grade after writing a book report in which I refused to give away the ending story I had summarized. But no one ever knows anything of any lasting value when they are eight. So, probably, the moment of truth came in sixth grade. I blame my English teacher. She gave a homework assignment to write a patriotic essay for Memorial Day. Something about why I’m glad I’m an American.
Having lots of homework in other subjects that night, I sat at my desk and wrote longhand the first thoughts that came to mind. Words become sentences, and sentences became paragraphs, and paragraphs became the essay that I turned in during class the next day. Not my best work, but it was done. And I moved on.
Then the nagging thoughts started. “I could have written about… I could improve that piece if… It wouldn’t be that much work to…” I spent the rest of the school day cogitating on how to improve my essay instead of paying attention during subjects like math and science.
That night, having substantially less homework, I recreated the entire piece for my benefit, because I knew I could. Much better. The next day, I humbly handed the newer version to my English teacher and politely asked if it could replace the old one. Shocked that any student would rewrite any assignment for any reason, she gladly accepted my work, and, once again, I thought I was done.
A week later, she announced to the class that she had picked three outstanding essays to be read out loud at a school-wide assembly. She chose mine, the one I had rewritten, as one of the winners. When I stood on the playground, in front of the entire school, reading my essay into the microphone, I knew, at that moment, that I was then and would forever more be a writer.