It's a tricky question. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
The honest truth is, I don't think a writer is something one 'wants to be'. It always seemed to me something one simply is. Writers are a different breed whose true, authentic selves are exposed only on the page.
I can't imagine not writing, and for almost as long as I can remember, it has always been so. As a kid I was an almost pathological liar - I spun tales out of nothing and wove them into my daily existence so often that there were times when I wasn't sure where fact ended and fiction began. When I learned to commit my stories to paper, it filled me with a sense of power and purpose and longing like nothing else. While I wrote, I cared little about the physical world around me; the people and places I created were more real than anything I could see or hear or touch. And when I was older, and had hammered into me a litany of reasons that the writing life was impractical and even irresponsible, I went to law school. I remember those years as torturous, not because I didn't find the law interesting from a human drama perspective, but because the massive tomes I was required to absorb left no time for recreational reading, and certainly no time for writing.
It was a three-year writing drought, during which I was irascible, irrational and generally unpleasant to be around. And after law school was done, I threw myself back into writing only to find that my sense of the written word had changed and dulled after hundreds of nights of reading dry legal opinions. Not that many years prior, an English professor at Vassar told me I had "true talent" and I'd carried that with me, like an innoculation against ordinariness. But now I was producing trite, meaningless, empty prose. I remember crying, curled up in a fetal position on the floor after having read one of many ill-conceived and poorly executed I-hesitate-to-call-them-stories. There was a tiny part of me, watching from above, chiding.
Ah, it said. Enough with the melodrama. Just get up and write.
And so I did.
I haven't stopped since. I wrote my way through many difficult life circumstances, using it as some might use drink or drugs, getting better, re-polishing my craft and my view of it. Phrases like 'failed writer', 'has-been writer', 'former writer' mean nothing to me now as they might have years ago when I viewed writing as a prospective profession. Now, I see that to be a writer isn't something I do, it's something I am.