There is nothing worse than to walk around for months and years with a story in my head, in my being, that cries, yearns, to get out. Maybe I started writing it, got deep into it, but put it down because…well life made its way in between me and the page. Days and days I would sit in class thinking about the story. I laugh out loud in the line in the grocery store because my characters have emerged in this untimely manner and they’ve started to dialogue in my head though I’m miles away from my writing pad. I sit behind a desk of a temp job, my left brain reconciling expense reports while my right brain is wrestling the fate of the life of a main character, does he die of cancer or does he live to become a great artist? But instead, his fate lies in limbo, because I, the channeler of his fate, lacked the courage to say no to the demands of life. Yes, I have to pay the bills, yes, I have to go to school, yes, I have to sleep. I had to decide when I would say, Yes, I have to write.
I have learned, to be a writer, the work cannot be an if. It must always be a when. It is a commitment that must have room to express itself. It is not something to put on a list of priorities. If you wish to accomplish yourself as a writer, it is a priority. To get writing done is not to attach it to financial gain, or if you have a publisher or agent. To adopt that perspective is basically to adopt failure, as a runner doesn’t win a gold medal every time one practices in the years getting to that medal.
My writing life shifted when I had the rare opportunity to meet the author I aspired to be, Octavia Butler. When she asked me why I hadn’t finished a novel, I told her I didn’t have time as I was in school full time. She told me that I had to plan, even if it was months in advance, to save up money, to plan time in the summer, or whenever, that would be writing time. She told me I had to find that time, plan it, and make it happen. It had to take that kind of commitment and priority.
I have learned that to hold on to stories year after year means a piling up of a wasted gift. It becomes a festering reminder of something you’ve given up or put aside because well…life happened. It’s amazing how many people I’ve met who have told me that they had dreams to be a writer and even 20 years later still wonder if it was an endeavor they could have accomplished. And if it is 20 years later, what is stopping them now?
I see not writing as a refusal to embrace the muse. To submit means to give yourself to a creative dance with words, a life that pulls on you that others may not understand. You may not even understand it, but this is one of those choices you may not be able to deconstruct with your left brain, or 20 years will go by. This, is a choice of trust.
Part of my reason for writing this blog is to track and chronicle my path to publication, and hopefully beyond. The notion of writing novels is a recent occurrence. Yes, I could tell the cliché story that I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer since I was 3 yrs. old, which is true, however, it was never a goal of mine to write anything beyond a story because I truly didn’t think I could write anything beyond that. As a teen, I was a good ballet dancer. I had dreams of New York and Paris ballet schools, tutus and tights flying around in my head.
I constantly wrote, but mostly journal writing and stories. As a teenager, I was also drawn to theater, and that’s when I began to write scripts. I still don’t quite know what happened with my fabulous dancing career, but I wound up in college. The ‘novel’ started in the MFA Creative writing program at Antioch University. I went into an MFA program to see if I had any skills as a writer, and mostly, to learn about the writing world. There was no intention to complete any project to get published though it seemed as if most around me yearned for publication. I thought I was the only defect in the room who didn’t have that goal, so from day one I felt I was lacking. When I met other writers for the first time, I felt unsophisticated, I lacked the contemporary literary terminology every other writer in the program seemed to speak, and I had barely read any of the “dead white guys” of classic literature, though I did fall in love with Dostoevsky’s work at age 12 (dead white guys was a coined phrase everyone seemed to know but me). Writers spoke the colorful contemporary language of chick lit, stream of consciousness, professional blogger…I was clueless which led to plummeting confidence.
During the first semester, for an assignment, I turned in an old story I had written a couple of years prior because quite frankly it was all I had. My faculty mentor wrote notes in red that my main character had a strong voice and to “keep going”. I thought, going where? I had to turn in a little bit every month, and the thought to crank out more than 50 pages was daunting. The novel started as my attempt to pass off one story for homework that turned into a longer and longer version of it. I wanted to be cool, and accepted, so I decided the longer version of a short unfinished story was my novel. I actually had something to talk about at the cafe, “of course I write novels”.
Despite the self-critical review I had created of myself, I had no choice but to continue, and I think it was the first time I pushed through self-doubt to make it to the other side, into the fictive dream (another sophisticated term I learned). Thankfully, I enjoyed the characters, the muse moved in and before I knew it, I had finished more than 200 pages in 3 weeks, mostly hand written as I hadn’t yet acquired a laptop. It was exhilarating. I didn’t know I had it in me. I finished the first draft by the end of the second semester, and though it was very rough, my mentors felt it was worth a second look, i.e. preparing it for the big P-word.
I finished the program at the beginning of 2009, and it has been only in the past year that I’ve decided to take this seriously, learn from my mistakes, be creative, do my homework, and make the effort to finally put the work out into the world. This is a short version of the journey, and a much lighter version, but I wanted to share an ‘about me’ story, offering a peek into how it all began, as I love to read about my favorite writers beginnings. One day, I’ll write the longer more adventurous version…
p.s. Crime & Punishment is what I read when I was 12…yeah…