Sunday, January 29, 2006

Getting Started

Karenna was wondering how I got started on the novel. It's kind of a long story, so I thought I'd make an entry about it.

It was nothing I planned in advance. True, I had wanted to write, and thought up story ideas from time to time, but I'd never had the self-discipline to write on my own. I'd always been great at meeting deadlines and doing work as part of a school assignment or for a job, but I was never able to write just for myself.

I used to think of myself as a good writer. When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a story for school and entered it in a Young Writer's contest for Jack and Jill magazine. The story was called, "How the Skunk was Gifted, and What He Did with His Gift". It won first place and was printed in the magazine, making me a published author at the age of 10. I won another contest when I was sixteen (that story was called "Doris the Dot"), just a local young author's contest put on by the school district, and I don't know that it counts as publication, but my story was copied and bound and put in all the local libraries. I always did well in English classes, and earned good grades on essays and reports. Writing came easily and naturally. It wasn't hard. I wrote with confidence, knowing it was something I did well.

Then I went to college and took a required Humanities class where my writing was ripped to shreds on a regular basis. Whereas before I was able to express myself fluidly without worrying about whether or not I was doing it "right", now I doubted every word. I didn't understand what they wanted, and it knocked the confidence right out of me. I've never regained that certainty, that clarity I used to have when I was young, where I trusted myself and the words came so easily. And I haven't thought of myself a "good" writer since.

I never lost the interest in writing, however, or lost the desire to write. It wasn't lack of confidence that held me back but rather that I couldn't muster up the self-discipline to write on my own. But in the back of my mind I hoped I'd be able to give it a try someday.

Fast forward many years to me as a new mom with a baby and a toddler. One day I was thumbing through a regional parenting magazine and I came across a blurb that the magazine was looking for freelance writers to do articles with a local slant. For some reason, on a whim almost, I went to the computer and dashed off a short email to the editor of the magazine with a couple article ideas I thought up off the top of my head. A half an hour later she called and offered me an assignment. I was stunned, but very excited. That first article led to several more (14 altogether, I think). I also wrote a few articles for our local paper.

For the most part, I enjoyed doing the articles, but never gave up on the idea of writing fiction. If you want to be a fiction writer, however, you have to do it on your own. No one is going to give you an assignment and a deadline. You have to be completely self-motivated. And I still didn't have that in me.

What finally prompted me to get started? How was I able to get myself to write regularly? I don't know completely. I think part of it was writing the articles. I hadn't written much since I left my job to stay home with Kara, and the articles got me back in habit of putting words together logically and concisely. I also read a couple of writing books--again nothing I thought about doing ahead of time--I just picked them up because they looked interesting. The most inspiring was Stephen King's On Writing. It's part memoir, part description of the way he writes, and it's completely fascinating. Even if you're not a fan of his work, I highly recommend reading it. Stephen King doesn't outline, he doesn't plan out his stories in advance, he just gets a kernel of an idea (for example: recovering alcoholic and family snowbound in a creepy hotel all winter) and goes from there. He writes without knowing exactly where the story is going, and according to him, the story then takes on a life of it's own.

I was so intrigued by this idea. I've been a voracious reader all my life and I love getting completely immersed in a good story. I wanted to get immersed in my own story. I wondered what would happen if I took my own idea and wrote. Would my story take on a life of it's own?

One day I was washing the dishes during my kids' rest/nap time and feeling pretty stressed and unfulfilled, when a voice spoke in my head and said, "You're a writer. Write." I went to my computer, switched it on and wrote until my little boy woke up. I'd had a kernel of an idea percolating in my head for awhile, and I just went with it. From that point on, I wrote at every rest time. I didn't call it a novel back then, I thought of it as writing for fun, letting the story sweep me along. Still, it wasn't easy (I had to freeze the words "Shitty First Draft" at the top of my screen, so I wouldn't stress as much about the quality of the writing) but it was incredibly rewarding. I felt a hundred times better about life in general. I think that feeling is what kept me at it. Plus I loved the watching the story unfold. It truly was amazing seeing the story develop through the process of writing it. Really interesting characters would pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, and I wanted to see what they would do next.

As the months went on and the story grew, I became more confident. I admitted to myself that I was writing a novel. I told my friends and family about it. I realized I am a writer. I don't have to put "SFD" at the top of my screen anymore. Obviously, I still struggle with confidence, but I don't have a problem with self-discipline. I want to write this novel. And that desire is stronger than my fears or innate laziness. I feel better about myself and life in general when I'm working on it and I don't want to lose that feeling.

1 comment:

Karenna said...

Thanks for all that info, Renee!