Writing Lessons From How I Came To Be a Writer by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Alright, it’s 2020, y’all! I hope everyone had a great holiday season and that you’re ready to embrace the Scream’n 20s! (I’m really hoping this catches on even though it probably has as much of a chance of becoming a thing as “fetch” did in Mean Girls.)

In case you didn’t know, I took the plunge and started a YouTube channel, which means that for the foreseeable future, every other Saturday will be dedicated to a blog version of a new YouTube video. If you’re curious as to what those videos may be about, you may educate yourself here.

And of course, you may watch the actual YouTube video here! Booyah!


so how did she come to be a writer?

The first book in my “Lessons From My Bookshelf” series is How I Came to Be a Writer by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which by my reckoning is the book I’ve owned the longest. I’ve decided to more or less go in chronological order of ownership, just to make it easy to follow a schedule. It’s been fun so far because a lot of these older books I have read, just not for a long time. So I get to revisit old favorites.

However, How I Came to Be a Writer is not one that I’ve ever actually read, which is ironic because it’s probably the shortest, easiest read I own aside from Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss (which subsequently did not make it on the list).

I came by this book in the second grade after moving to a new school. On my birthday (which was about a month after we’d moved), they called me up to the office to pick out a birthday prize. Precocious little rapscallion that I was, I chose this book. And then it sat on my shelf for the next fourteen years. Go figure.

Growing up, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was a big name (and probably still is; I just don’t pay attention to book trends anymore). She’s written dozens of juvenile and YA novels, and I think she’s most well-known for the Alice series and the Shiloh books. I know for sure that in the 5th grade, we read Shiloh as a class. I remember that I liked it and that it was like a less sad version of Where The Red Fern Grows. Which we also read in the 5th grade. It was a very doggy-themed reading year, I suppose.

[Side note: so I was never one for crying over dog movies or books in the past, but over the holidays we got a puppy (who is the best thing ever and who will definitely make an appearance in future YouTube videos) and the other day we watched Togo on Disney+ and I cried like a baby. So I’ve officially become a dog movie crier, I guess.]

Ms. Naylor’s autobiography was only 121 pages long, and it was a really fun read. You could hear her voice really clearly, and she’s actually really funny–she talks at one point about how she tries to incorporate humor into all of her books, which I love.

The book starts with her childhood and talks about her first stories, when she realized she loved to write, and her first rejection letters. I don’t care where you are in your writing journey, you need to hear accounts of published, successful authors getting rejected in the beginning, and you need to hear them often. Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone gets rejected.

The rest of the book tracks through her life growing up and her development as a writer, and, eventually, an author. The last quarter or so of the book gets more into her writing process, which is another great thing to read about.

She’s so candid and honest about her growth as a writer, and there were a lot of relatable moments where I was like, “Oh my God, that’s me.” Obviously, every writer is different, but I think you’ll find that there are definitely some patterns that emerge across the board.

I think it’s always good to hear a writer’s story (especially a writer with whom you’re familiar) because it really puts the realism of it into perspective. Authors are not some special breed of human that the gods have shined down upon–they’re people, plain and simple. To make a career out of writing, they had to work really hard and take a lot of heat. (Most of the time, anyway.) It’s inspiring, actually.

If you have any interest in writing at all, I highly recommend How I Came to Be a Writer. It’s a short read, it’s funny, and it’s honest. As I express quite emphatically in the video, I feel incredibly accomplished to have finally read this book. Fourteen years to do what literally could’ve been done in an afternoon. If that’s not procrastination, I don’t know what is.

So what’s up next? I’ll have a non-video-related blog post up next week, but the week after that, we’ll be looking at The Tale Desperaux by Kate Dicamillo. It’s an oldie but a goodie. I hadn’t read this book in years so it was a really fun one to revisit. Especially after the monstrosity that was the movie adaptation. Eesh.

Have you read anything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? If so, would you recommend it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

One response to “Writing Lessons From How I Came To Be a Writer by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor”

  1. Wow! That’s such a great story. How amazing at just the ripe age of 8 you would choose a book about writing and become a writer!
    Thanks for sharing..

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