My world changed forever the first time I saw my writing in print.

I was sitting in class when the notification popped up: “Congratulations. You are the winner of the Coastal Journal’s Halloween Writing Contest.” I couldn’t stop smiling as I smacked my classmate’s arm over and over again to get their attention.

One week later, my writing was published and in stands all across Midcoast Maine. For the first time, my idea, my story, and my words were on paper and available for anyone to read and enjoy. And that was awesome.

For years, I was in love with the idea of writing. I’d create stories, characters, plotlines, and entire worlds in my head, but almost never put them down on paper. And when I would, there was no way I was going let anyone read what I wrote. I wasn’t any good. I didn’t think anyone would want to read my work anyway. I convinced myself that I’d be laughed at and be forced to spend days wallowing in self-pity, never to show my face in public again.

I didn’t want that kind of soul-crushing embarrassment. Therefore, my writing was for my eyes only.

I became a writer during the summer of 2016 when I wrote the 250-page novel that I’d wanted to write since the spring of the eighth grade. Before then, I wrote Chapter 1 about five times, but never got much further than that.

I fell in love with writing while working on the first draft of my novel. I fell in love with putting these crazy worlds down on paper. I fell in love with letting my imagination run rampant on the page. Writing became what I was most passionate about, but at the time, I was still too scared to turn writing into something more than a hobby.

I was reluctant to submit a story to the Coastal Journal’s Halloween Writing Contest. I didn’t think I could win. And then there was, of course, the soul-crushing embarrassment that would ensue from letting everyone read my work if I did win.

But even so, after much nagging from my aunt, I ended up writing a story to submit about a crazy old woman with a spirited doll collection, and I won.

I was in awe when I first picked up the newspaper and read aloud, “The Dolls, by Jack Ouimette” in bold print. That was my work. My story. My words that someone appreciated enough to publish and share with the world.

At that moment—without experiencing any soul-crushing embarrassment—I developed this new self-confidence that would be and will be vital to later successes. I knew that being a good writer takes countless hours of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.

But I also knew it is what I loved to do most. And at that moment, I felt that maybe I did have a shot at being a writer, and perhaps even a good one.

I ended up gaining the confidence to submit my story to the Maine Scholastic Writing Contest, where it went on to win a Gold Key—the highest award at the regional level. And in the spring of my junior year, I founded a literary publication at Morse— “The Best Art & Writing of Morse”—to inspire that same self-confidence in others and celebrate the phenomenal work they do.

And that novel I’d wanted to write since the spring of the eighth grade won a Gold Key this year in the Maine Scholastic Writing Contest. My countless hours of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice were starting to pay off.

Winning a local writing contest may be a small feat in the grand scheme of life, but it’ll be one I’ll never forget, as it was a catalyst for all that would come next in my writing journey. Seeing my work in print for the first time gave me the courage to keep writing. It inspired me to take risks and to continue pursuing what I love to do most.

I’ll be attending Oberlin College in the fall with plans to major in creative writing. After two years of pursuing my passion, taking risks, winning awards, and inspiring others to read and write, I decided to gamble everything to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time writer.

And let me tell you, I am petrified. But for the first time, I’m not allowing fear to hold me back. And despite the odds, I believe in myself. I believe I’m a good writer and that I can achieve my goals if I continue to work hard and persist, regardless of the setbacks I’ll face along the way.

Winning this one-time local newspaper writing contest helped to give me the courage to pursue my passion, the courage to take risks, the courage to fail, and most importantly, the courage to

Jack Ouimette will graduate from Morse in the Top 10 of his class during commencement exercises on Sunday. Best of luck from the Coastal Journal!