April 25, 2016

From the Beginning By Vickie Stam

"She prints very good stories and knows all her reading words." These words leap from the page of my 1971 report card; one of the few my mother kept.   

"Vickie reads well with comprehension applying phonetic and word attack skills without difficulty." A year later, at the tender age of eight, I'm still doing very well with syntax. My formation of words is coming together. I smile at the very thought of my teacher's comments. I only wish my mother had kept some of those stories from long ago.  

But, what I discovered when I read those old report cards is that they indeed mark the first real evidence of my writing apprenticeship. The start of a passion. I learned at a very young age to "attack words" -- hear the individual sound of the letters, link them together and build a relationship among them. I learned that stringing words together would form a sentence and eventually a story. An expression of me!

In grade six my report card brings more great news. The letter, "A" stares back at me in bold blue ink; smack dab beside the subjects, spelling and phonics. I see this marvelous achievement as a stepping stone to something bigger; something I know could only have come from God. The letter "B" is penned beside the task of written expression. It's clear that writing still agreed with me.        

Unfortunately, those are the only report cards I have. Each time I look at them I'm reminded of the fact that I liked words then and still do today. 

As I jump forward in time, the memories flip like a slide show in my mind. I can see myself sitting at my desk. My English teacher's blond hair barely moves as she strolls up and down the aisles between our seats. She allows us to hide an open bag of chips in the cavity of our desks. We're granted permission to eat them during class, "Only if you promise to do it quietly." She says. Hmmm...a challenge for me. She was quite the teacher! She would belt out the day's lesson, pronouncing each word with such clarity and then proceed to rake the white chalk across the black board up front. The thought of her nails catching the chalk board still makes me shiver.  

Not only did she want us to use our visual skills, she wanted us to listen; something that would also become quite an essential part of the writing process. All writer's use words to unlock the senses. The things we see, hear, smell, taste and touch need to paint a picture.

That was 1979 and like most teenagers, I remember thinking, I can't wait to get out of here. My social life seemed much more important. Even so, nothing deterred me from earning high marks in English. My passion for writing was there even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time.  

In my twenties I entered a poem in a poetry contest. Nothing ever came of it but the desire for me to submit something was obviously sparked when I came upon the request for submissions. 

But, the biggest turning point for me in my writing journey came in 2010 when I enrolled in a writing class at the University almost an hour's drive from my home. What was I thinking? I remember wondering if I'd made a mistake. My stomach flipped several times on the drive to school yet I walked out at the end of my first class -- on fire. I could hardly wait to do my homework.   

I'm not brimming with any outstanding advice, really. But if there is one piece of encouragement I can offer to someone, it would be, "Never let someone tell you that you cannot write." If you feel it --- write it. 

Unlike other types of apprenticeships, no one paid me while in the process of learning. I simply write because the evidence shows that it's been in me from the very beginning.  

Psalm 139:13-14

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."


  1. An unpaid apprenticeship shows real passion. It is a growing theme this month - something I am sure most of us already knew but it is always encouraging to hear other people's stories. We are not alone in this journey!

    1. Thanks Tracy. I agree, our passion for writing certainly outweighs the financial gain.

  2. I enjoyed hearing about your apprenticeship Vickie. It sounds very similar to my own with those early sparks and then rediscovering it in your adult years and the small but important steps along the way.

  3. I too identify with what you wrote here, and it makes me smile to look back on similar events. I too loved reading and writing from an early age. In high school, I took regular English plus an extra course in English Literature. I took French and even Latin--something I have never regretted.

    I heard a fellow on a CBC morning program joking about how he hasn't used Latin at all after High School. I use Latin every day, because so much of English is based on a Latin foundation. I appreciate my schooling in language arts and I enjoyed my years of teaching all of the language arts to my students.


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