It's all Napoleon Solo's fault.
When I was about nine years old, I was obsessed with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the television exploits of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. And part of this particular obsession was fed by reading: There were numerous U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novels, including titles written specifically for what would now be considered "middle-grade readers". These, you can be sure, I was allowed to have, since my parents were happy I liked to read. And they didn't expect me to start with Crime and Punishment when I was nine. Come to think of it, I still haven't gotten to that one.
One U.N.C.L.E. book in particular, whose title I am unable to recall, caught my attention. For some reason early in the story, Alexander Waverly (the crusty but lovable boss to our intrepid agents, who was played on television by Leo G. Carroll) had to travel from the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York to Washington D.C. to have a meeting with... somebody (the details are a little sketchy for me these days).
Upon arriving in our nation's capital, Mr. Waverly gets into a cab (you'd think a bigshot like him would have a limo waiting to take him to this high-level confab, but no) and starts filling his pipe--no restrictions on such things in the Sixties--and chats with the cabbie. Mostly about how hot and humid it is in Washington.
"Beastly hot," Waverly says (or something like it; I'm working from a memory 45 years old).
"It gets hot a lot this time of year down here," the cabbie replies. "But this is sure hot."
"Hot," Waverly echoes.
(Can you tell it was 100 degrees in New Jersey this weekend?)
No kidding; the word "hot" is bandied about like an especially delicious candy the writer can't stop savoring as it does down. And this goes on for at least a half a page, although my childhood memory stretches it out to a page-and-a-half. That's how bored I was, and how clearly I remember thinking, perhaps for the first time:
"I could have written it better than this."
Now, keep in mind; I'm nine years old, and believe that writers are a special breed, a group of demigods who can take any topic and turn it into gold simply by looking at it (were that such were possible!). I labored under the assumption, as some adults seem to perpetuate, that writers (professional writers, that is) weren't like the rest of us; they were somehow elevated and untouchable.
In other words, they weren't people like me.
But with that moment, that random thought indicating I could have gotten this story told better than whatever mercenary was pounding this one out for a quick buck, I began to think of writers differently. Maybe they weren't above reproach. Maybe they weren't ALL great at what they did.
Maybe I could do it, too.
Not long after that, I wrote my first story. Luckily, my memory has erased all traces of that one, but I kept going. Shortly thereafter, I realized that the movies and TV shows (like, for example, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) were written, and eventually I started on screenplays and spec TV scripts.
A mere 33 years after that first impulse, my first novel was published. A wild success story, no?
The point is, I recall thinking like a writer very early on. I noticed that words were being overused, that the story was being delayed and drawn out unnecessarily. I started thinking about how I'd do it differently.
That U.N.C.L.E. book, which was no masterpiece, started my mind rolling, and to this day, I urge my students to read bad writing, since the mistakes will leap off the page at you and make you (at least) think, "Well, I'll never do that!") So I have to wonder if that was the time I started thinking like a writer. But then, I was already noticing the deficiencies in what I was reading; does that mean it was something that I brought with me straight from the factory? Did I make myself a writer, or was I born that way?
Does it matter?