From One-Page Stories to Full-Length Novels

With classes underway across the country, I’m reminded how school helped shape who I am today. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be something “creative”, but at the time I couldn’t quite pinpoint what “name” would be attached with that dream.
 
Jenni's ChickensThroughout elementary school, I wrote a ton of one-page stories. Never fail, the storyline followed the same progression: girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl and boy have baby. That’s it. My mom treated it like a masterpiece each and every time. 
 
In fifth grade, my class hatched chickens. Yes, chickens (to study the embryonic cycle). Naturally, I wanted to bring ’em home. This led to sitting my parents down in the living room for my ‘big pitch.’ Cue poster boards, markers, and pie charts. I took notice of the price of eggs at the supermarket. I called my local Agway for the cost of chicken feed. And, I calculated the frequency my family sat down to enjoy scrambled eggs. My parents received an earful (and eyeful) on the financial benefits of owning chickens. Not long after, Roadrunner and Heidi the Chicken found their new home. 
 
Iletters-from-rifkan middle school, my favorite teacher was Miss Benner. She taught Language Arts, and I gravitated toward a book she suggested because the girl on the cover was the spitting image of her. They could’ve been twins. I devoured that book, LETTERS FROM RIFKA, and kept going from there. While my mom read a ton of books with me prior to this moment, I can pinpoint this book as my catalyst as wanting to read for fun. From there, I dominated the BOOK IT! Program. Anyone else remember that? I ate a lot of personal pizzas.
 
In high school, I found myself in AP English, encouraged by fabulous teachers, like Mr. Wall, who recognized my need to be creative. He suggested I do something with “words” in college.
 
In college, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study at Villanova University, but I felt a business degree was practical. I scanned through the class catalog, steering away from “numbers” and toward “words”. I ended up pursuing Marketing. But I also saw that a Communications major offered courses in advertising, screenwriting, poetry, etc. I decided to do both.
 
After college, I finally put a “name” to what I wanted to be. A copywriter. I landed a job at an advertising agency and happily crafted messages for a decade before–I’ll be honest–I read a book that infuriated me. I complained emptily to my husband, “I could do better than that.” He laughed, then said, “so do it.” So I did. Well, I tried. That book will never see the light of day. But I rediscovered my love of writing stories, and progressed from my one-page stories to full-length novels.
 
Any other writers out there? How’d you end up putting words down on paper?
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Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years ​chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. BECOMING BONNIE (Tor Forge/Macmillan, 5/9/2017) is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. SIDE BY SIDE, telling Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree story, will be released in the summer of 2018. Please learn more about Jenni's books at jennilwalsh.com.

This article has 4 Comments

  1. I, like you, at a young age, crafted stories. And of course my parents, and grandparents, always deemed them masterpieces as well! In university I gravitated towards the English/languages/history/philosophy classes, so definitely did not steer away from that. But for some reason, life got in the way, family obligations forced me to gently set writing aside. But I found when life handed me lemons, I kept returning to make lemonade out of words, writing out sadness and frustration on paper. Even while I had other jobs (banking & real estate) I was always using my free time to spin up short stories. Finally, while thinking of my childhood one day, and all the ‘books’ I had written, it dawned on me- often childhood dreams are the most pure and authentic. So I sat down, hunkered in for the winter and spent three months writing my first novel. And I’ve never been happier.

  2. I love this blog post about how you got your start in writing and found your way to where you are today. So inspirational, especially because I find many young adults (my kids included) really have no clue how to turn their passion into a career. Often it is this bumbling road that makes sense when we reach our destination, but can seem like a dead end while we’re trying to get there. I probably would not be an author today had it not been for the key influential people in my life – my 8th grade English teacher, who plucked my story out of a pile and had the class vote on it, and then entered it on my behalf in a county-wide contest. That felt good. But it wasn’t until I stepped into the college classroom of American novelist Hilary Masters that I knew a career “with words” was not only possible, but necessary. He believed in me. That alone was important. And I learned to never give up. But most of all, he showed me through his actions the importance of always lifting up our fellow writers. You never know who you might inspire today.

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