Pen to Paper: What is Your Origin Story?

We all come from someplace. I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, but the place that shaped me was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Portaging in the BWCAW

My family (parents, cousins, friends...anyone and practically everyone) took a canoe trip there every summer. I learned to paddle a canoe in a straight line, to read a map, to cook over a fire, and to carry 85 pound canoes over portages (granted, I was older by then).

I still think about the night a cloud of dragon flies swarmed our campsite, eating mosquitoes so my parents and I could lie outside and watch the stars. Not to mention the night we heard a pack of wolves howling around a lake.

I canoed every summer until my early 20s, even leading trips for girls during college. Canoeing shaped my understanding of the world: my need for quiet places, the value of lands set apart, even politics as I learned about the wilderness debate.



That part of the world also shaped my life as a writer. In high school, my poems centered on canoeing (even that college poem I'll never forget). Years later—when my life was firmly entrenched in the city—my first paid assignment was a profile about a wilderness advocate who ran an outfitting business in Ely, MN. Wilderness News actually paid me to drive north, stay at a hotel and spend an afternoon with a lively old man just weeks before he passed away.

While I was there, I visited the camp I'd gone to in high school (I'd led trips there in college and become a program director, too... it was a hard place to leave). The caretaker introduced me to someone as a writer, and that was a big moment. I'd known from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, but that weekend I felt like a writer.

Looking back, it makes sense that my start as a writer grew out of a place that meant so much to me. I knew it, I believed in it, and I could write about it with confidence.



-4I've come to believe that we have two beginnings as writers. There's the moment we discover writing, usually as a child, and then there's the moment we take writing seriously. That moment usually comes as an adult, after some period of time in which we believed it "wasn't practical" to be a writer. But for some reason, we change our minds. We decide to take a class or start a blog because we're going to write whether we get published or not, and damn it, we're going to try to get published. I think that moment is the important one. It holds the conviction we need to keep pursuing our writing goals, no matter how much they grow or evolve.

There's strength to be found in revisiting your origin as a writer. Set aside 15 minutes and explore your story. When did you discover writing? When did you decide to pursue it? Write by hand. Don't edit or erase as you go. Tap into your story, and see what it has to tell you about pursuing your future dreams.