Anthony van Leeuwen, Author of LGBTQ Originals
I was ten when I began to create through words, imagining someone to be with, to hang out with or do nothing with; someone who could be a best friend to a ten-year-old. I wrote a love song, even before I knew I was gay, or that I would eventually write a love letter to my 'Prince' through my current writing work.
Getting back to the story:
The lyrics to the song were:
Nothing to do
Just me and you
All day-hey long
I remember the day I wrote this song. My brother Joe came into my room and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was writing a song and he asked to hear it, so I sang it to him. When I drew out the 'hey' after the day, he laughed as brothers do, and mocked me singing that part of the song.
Joe was my first critic. However, his mocking made me feel so stupid and I gave up on writing.
It wasn't until I received recognition and encouragement from teachers in high school that my enjoyment to create through the construction of words was reignited. My freshman English teacher, Michael Tubbs, pulled me aside one day after class to share his belief in my writing. He wanted me to write for the school newspaper, which he oversaw.
I also wanted to write for the school yearbook, especially after I had seen the photographer and developed a crush on him, before I understood it as a crush. He was a senior and had really sexy legs! I wanted to be near him. So, I took a night class in photography—an interest that had been sparked when I received a Polaroid camera for Christmas at age eight. When I did shoot for the yearbook, it also involved writing and I became just as interested in the copy as the pictures. My exposure to writing through the "reporting" about the year for the yearbook led me to choose Journalism as a major.
In my Junior year, my English teacher--Sister Irene--was also very positive about my writing. She was a super positive person who gave complimentary and genuine comments about the writing I did for her class. Sister Irene allowed her students to pick our subjects for our research papers--with some guidelines--and expressed general interest and curiosity in learning from what we had chosen to write about. Which made me feel as if unconsciously, I was teaching Siter Irene something, too, which doubled the sense of encouragement I received from her.
While in college I met Jennifer Dawson, my writing teacher. All because I followed another cute boy I wanted to be near any way I could. He told me about the class and said I should try to get in.
Jennifer made reading and writing fun. She also made it fun to talk about the books she assigned. She was a strong female force, who exposed me to women writers of different races and eras. We read, discussed, and wrote about Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. It was like my first book-club and Professor Dawson knew how to lead a discussion, and make everyone, and their opinions, feel included. Her encouragement in our writing and passion for both reading and writing were addictive.
After the literature class, Professor Dawson encouraged the cute boy and I--she nicknamed us 'The Wonder Twins' because I'm sure she sensed we were usually high, arriving late to class --to join her creative writing class where the lightning desire struck to want to write a book.
My interest was diverted from a fact- based style of writing toward the creative. I switched majors to Advertising, because I felt my writing would become more creative. After a short attempt at a book about two male best friends, I quickly gave up, feeling insecure at nineteen and my ability. What did I know about life to write a book??
So, my writing roots are a combination of those rare and special human beings--teachers--who saw something in my writing and encouraged it, as well as the cute boys who guided me like Pepe Le Pew who I wanted to be near...."all day-hey long."
Twenty-seven years of life and five books later...
My writing style stems from staying present, observant, and curious. I like to notice how things connect—people, experiences, and ideas. Then, playing the game of, if that didn't happen, that wouldn't have happened, and going back to the beginning. Then when I write, I create a narrative from that connecting thread and pull it through.
Inspiration comes everywhere: art exhibitions, museums, conversations, interviews, film, television, music, lyrics, quotes, travel, and social media, as I avidly seek that inspiration daily.
I always carry a pen and paper to write down anything I see or hear that resonates with or inspires me. I also take screenshots or pictures I might want to research and learn more about later.
Listening to the advice and recommendations of people I admire and other artists or mentors I respect that resonate with where I'm at in my life inspires my creative output. Nature and meditation, too, allow me to ground myself, to let new ideas come forth. I write best when my head is clear and receptive to receiving new ideas.
The best and most consistent advice on writing I've heard from several different writers that I highly agree with is to read everything: Books, magazines, newspapers, social media posts, graffiti, poetry, and scripts. The more one reads, the better one can discern good, okay, and poor writing. This discernment is essential because it allows you to scrutinize and improve your writing.
I like to read books that seem to "come" to me, whether found on a plane or recommended by a friend whose opinion I respect or admire. I also love checking out the little community 'library' boxes on the streets.
Another piece of advice I adhere to is to "just write." The only way to get good at something is through repetition, dedication, and practice. I can't estimate the number of hours I've spent writing over the years, everything from school assignments, letters, emails, and personal projects. Writing takes time, dedication, stick-to-itiveness, and the ability to face rejection and handle isolation to go off to "live" in multiple worlds.
This approach to writing is what has evolved over the years. It is what currently works for me as a writer.