Sunday, February 23, 2014

The First Novel I Wrote

By Joshua David Bellin

When I was about eight, I started a story titled “Slowest Runner.” The tale of Joe Moric, a kid who desperately wants to win the big race despite the fact that he is (as the title not-so-subtly hints) the world’s slowest runner, it lasted about a page before I abandoned it.

In part, that might have been because I didn’t know how to type, and it was torture to hunt and peck on my mom’s manual typewriter. More importantly, though, I ran out of ideas; though I had created a relatable character and saddled him with an interesting problem, though I knew enough about story arc to realize I’d have to resolve his conflict somehow, I couldn’t envision how the world’s slowest runner was going to win the race that loomed less than a week away (or if not, how he was going to handle defeat).

So I set the story aside, never to finish it. To quote the words of my own story: “It was a sad day.”

What’s the significance of this oddity? From the perspective of the present moment, roughly forty years later, I’d say: a lot.

“Slowest Runner” was the first thing I wrote that I thought of as a novel. I’d written other things before, of course, mostly for school (including the earliest piece of my writing to survive, a first-grade assignment which I reproduce below, with teacher comment intact. The “A” was my classroom, not my letter grade).

But “Slowest Runner” wasn’t a school assignment. I wrote it spontaneously, because it was a story I wanted to tell (probably because, at age eight, I was wrestling with my older brother’s athletic prowess). And I wrote it as a novel, with chapters (each about two paragraphs long) and, as I initially conceived it, a long story arc, full of twists and surprises. It started in the middle of an action: “One clear day, Joe Moric was out on the track.” And everything unfolded from that opening scene, where Joe, upon completion of his laps, discovers he’s much slower than he imagined. The fact that I couldn’t finish it--the fact, in other words, that a novel was too ambitious for an eight year old--doesn’t diminish the fact that I started it.

We all start somewhere. Some of us, thanks to proud parents who affix our early productions to the refrigerator, still have documentary evidence of our beginnings. I’ll never know if Joe Moric would have won that race. But forty years later, I can look back at the kid who imagined himself a novelist, and know that I’ve arrived at the finish line.

If you're a writer (or a reader), I'd love to hear where your journey began! Share in the comments or send me a message via my website!

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