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  • Writer's pictureSofiya Pasternack

The Story Behind How I Started Writing

Being a Weird Kid Without a TV or Any Friends

Ahahaha that sounds so sad. It's not! I promise!


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I grew up kind of out in the middle of nowhere. My parents wanted to have a goodly amount of property, so we had 11 acres adjacent to a State Park. Neighbors that were within driving distance but not easily walking distance. My bus ride to school was 2 hours or so.

I had a lot of animal friends, like a Disney princess. Except instead of singing to chickens to get them to dance or lay more eggs or whatever, I would hypnotize them in the driveway. If we weren't careful with the pasture gate, the goats would get out and climb on the cars. One time our pony let herself into the house because someone left a door open. I tried to ride our cows and they were not amenable. That kind of thing.

And we had a TV, I guess, but it had like 4 channels on it, and 3 of those were news channels. The fourth only played cartoons on Saturday mornings. So my sister and I had to do other things to stay mentally busy.

And one of the things I chose to do... was write.


Little Sofiya's Creative Nonfiction

When I was pretty little, my grandma came to live with us because she had cancer, and my dad wanted her to live with us while she was getting treatment.

Now, my country bumpkin grandma had a lot of ridiculous things going on about her, one of which was her farm girl upbringing meant she was absolutely appalled that we let the rooster be a jerk to everyone, and one day she took matters into her own hands and... well, I'll leave out the details, but we did eat chicken soup for a couple of days.

Roosters are so mean, you guys.

Another cool thing about my grandma was that she had no teeth. I don't know the circumstances that led to her having no teeth but I don't think there was a time in my life when she had a single tooth in her mouth. She wore dentures, and I was enthralled with her ritual of removing and cleaning her teeth every night.

I was convinced that, at some point in a person's life, they gained the ability to remove their entire set of teeth. That I would one day achieve this ability. And I was very excited about it.

So for a school journaling assignment, I wrote about my grandma's removable teeth. And the untimely passing of our rooster, Clucky. And the alligator that lived in our pool for a few days before we called the Gator Removal Service to take it away (this was Florida; things are wild in Florida).

And my teacher brought out that journal to my parents at our parent-teacher conference and said, "Well, Sofi has quite the imagination."

My mom read the journal and said, "No. This is all real."

I don't know how this made my teacher feel, but like I said, this was Florida. So she probably chalked things up to bath salts and brain amoebas, and moved on.


The Shame

As far as I'm aware, I wrote my first fiction story at the age of 6. It was about a unicorn being different colors. I illustrated it. It was terrible.

I got better since then.

But for a very, very long time, I kept my writing a secret. I wasn't writing about anything weird. It was really bad, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't writing snuff about my cousins or anything. It was regular tween/teen girl fantasy nonsense that was just LotR rehashed, elves and all. I'd write on the shared family computer and turn the screen off whenever someone walked into the room. I also had dozens of handwritten journals lined up in my closet, and when my mom would ask to read them, I'd react like she just asked if she could peel my skin off a little bit.

I graduated from high school. I moved out of my house. I got a job, I got an education, and I never showed anyone my writing. It was secret. I was convinced it was terrible and that everyone would laugh at me.

And yeah, having people laugh at my writing would have been devastating. It was one of the only things that made me happy, and if someone told me thing that made me happy was stupid... well, I think that would have been the end of the world for little Sofi.

While I was getting my second Associate's Degree, I needed an elective, and I decided to take a creative writing class. What the heck. It was a spur of the moment, impulsive decision, and I regretted it almost immediately. I especially regretted it when I had to turn in a short story for peer feedback.

They're all going to laugh at me.

Well, it was for a grade, wasn't it? Shit. Okay, I guess I have to do this. I didn't turn in a short story. It was a chapter from the novel I was working on at the time (which now safely sits in my Never Ever File in the bowels of my computer).

The feedback from my peers was what you'd expect from 18-year-old college students in an Intro to Creative Writing 101 class. Mostly stuff like "this was good" or "good job" or stuff like that.

But the teacher's feedback was the thing that really lit me up. Because prior to that, we'd turned in poetry (mine was a haiku about a stegosaurus), and creative nonfiction (not about my grandma's teeth this time), and the grades I'd gotten back were good ones, but my insecurity whispered into my ear that the teacher was just being nice.

Until this chapter I got back, and the note on it in red pen, right under the 100% grade, was, "Is there anything you can't write?"


The Thing About Stories

Stories are important.

On those long bus rides home from school when I was a kid, I would stare out the window and think about stories.

When I rode one of the horses around, it was usually at a slow walk, and I was imagining that I was riding a unicorn, not a horse, and we were traveling through magical lands on the run from goblins or trolls or Bad Humans.

On stormy afternoons when I couldn't go outside and run around and there were no cartoons on our 4-channel-having TV, I would lay on the floor in the study and dream up stories.

When I'm falling asleep, I think of stories, of scenes, of dialogue my characters would say. I don't get up to write any of it down, because that's not the point of it.

I was 23 when I was asked if there was anything I couldn't write, but I still didn't show anyone my writing in any substantial way for two more years.

But showing others your writing isn't really the point of writing, is it? My stories have always been for me. Sharing them with others is nice, but it's not what drives me. Creation is foremost personal, and something done to please yourself.

Sometimes I wish I'd had the courage to show people my writing years earlier than I did. Where would I be now? How many books would I have written and published? But then I wonder if they would have been reflective of who I really am. Because I didn't even know that until recently.

I like who I am. I like what I've written. And I think little chicken-hypnotizing Sofi would like it, too.


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meet sofiya!

Sofiya Pasternack is a mental health professional, the highly-distractible author of Jewish MG and YA fantasy, and prone to oversharing gross medical stories.

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