Saturday, March 23, 2013

How I Became a Writer

For some reason, I am suddenly inspired today to tell a story. Kind of a long story, and I'm sure you have better things to be doing, but that's okay. I'm telling it anyway. This is the story of how I became a writer.

The very first time I ever actually sat myself down and started to write a story, I was 10 or so. I remember sitting in my bedroom I shared with my sister in the apartment we lived in, in Morgan, Utah. And this story was about a deer. I don't actually remember now what the story involved, but I knew it was a female deer, and at the beginning of the book, I was describing her walking through some trees, rustling the leaves as she passed them. I was absolutely enchanted then, as I still am now, at the glorious way that words translated images so beautifully.

Words have always been easy for me. Ever since I was a kid that could barely read, I have sucked up words with a passion that is unending. I was the kid at recess who sat under a tree and read James and the Giant Peach in second grade because I didn't have friends, and I was okay with that. If I could have, I would have lived in the library. I loved to see those shelves crammed full of every kind of book, those mysterious, entertaining, colorful covers of books that had the most intoxicating mysteries and adventures inside.

So it's really no surprise that writing was something that has come naturally to me. Being such an incurable bookworm as a kid and teenager fueled that fire, and still does. Reading is a unique solace that a person can retreat to, somewhere sheltering and yet unreal that one can go to escape the unbearable things of life and for a short time, have the freedom to be somewhere else. With other people. In another world. That's how it has always been for me. The characters and places in books have always had a pull on me that I've never wanted to resist. And I feel for those characters as if they were real people, sometimes I want to reach through those pages and just hug them, or laugh with them, or cry with them. And sometimes I do, even if it is something as cheesy as hugging that book.

When I was in junior high, 8th grade to be specific, I was sitting in my US History class behind a guy that I had a crush on. And when we weren't passing notes (boy, did my tweeny-bopper self get a rush out of that), I was often bored. This particular teacher had a way of making the American Revolution sound as exciting as reading a legal dictionary. He had this voice, this monotone voice that might occasionally go up or down in volume, but it was one of the easiest sounds in the world to just tune out.

So naturally I found other things to keep myself from falling asleep and drooling attractively on my desk.

I wove a few (see also, dozens of) friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss, I doodled on my notebook, and then one day, just for fun, I started writing down made-up names that popped into my head. And the first one I came up with was Laika.

It came to my attention several years later that I was not the first person to come up with this name, there was actually a Russian dog that was the first animal put up into space with the same name, and this devastated me. It was not solely my name. But I got over it. This is not the only name that I made up only to find that it had been made up by someone else too. I always feel a surge of righteous anger and indignation when this happens.

But anyway, I had this name. I liked this name a lot. It was somehow foreign and familiar and poetic and realistic all at the same time, and while I kept on jotting down names that were a mix of sounds and syllables that I was putting together in my head, my imagination kind of . . . exploded.

A royal family, a quaint village, magical Elves (we're not talking Santa Claus here, we're talking Terry Brook's Shannara and JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings), mythical creatures, a grand quest, and certainly danger along the way. This picture of this gorgeous tree? This is what one fraction of my world looked like in this story. A new printer of my dad's printed this picture off as a test, and I totally swiped and kept it in my writing binder.

Now, let me be both indulgent and critical for a moment. This idea was GENIUS. I still think so. However, when I wrote this story, which quickly spun from just an idea to over 1,000 handwritten pages (not an exaggeration) of TWO books, I was a dramatic, emotional, hormonal teenager who had many enthusiastic friends who I was delighted to have contribute ideas, characters, and even pages of writing to this project.

It was a disaster! So much of those books were random and delightful pieces of fluff that had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story and everything to do with the interactions and lives of me and my friends. I had well over 50 characters in those books, and almost all of them were me and my friends, come to literary life in a world that was manipulate-able in so many ways. You would not believe how many 9th grade girls got their dream boy in writing that year, it was insane. And I was the orchestrator of most of it, I'm happy to say.

Anyway, so this idea was great, the writing was . . . shite. The story was there, to be sure, but it was positively buried in the outrageous and hysterical mound of fluff and nonsense of me and my fabulous friends.

Two pivotal things happened when I was in high school that ended this era. The first one was finishing the second book. Two separate, distinct adventures and plot lines that were in two separate binders. I had a idea where I wanted to go next with this, but at the time it involved my main character, Laika (told you I liked the name) growing up and having grown up daughters. And I just didn't know if I could do that, emotionally or realistically. I wasn't 20 or 30 years old and married, I wasn't 40 or 50 with grown kids, I didn't know how to write that. I was a teenager, that's what I wrote. And I also didn't know if I could basically take my heroine off her pedestal as the star of my show and have someone else take her place. It was like Ariel from Little Mermaid having a daughter, it was cool but just felt . . . so wrong! Look how old that ridiculous hairstyle makes Ariel look!

The second thing that happened, that just took the heart and soul right out of me, was that a few large chunks of my books got lost. I was devastated. I had lent parts of the book to friends to read, and either they were returned missing pages or damaged beyond use, or in one case, the binder my pages had been kept in was stolen. I have since discovered that one of the first rules of writing is to ALWAYS have a copy. An updated copy that, in the event that you lose part of the original, you have a backup. I didn't have a backup. Sure, most of the story was in my head, and I could probably faithfully reproduce what I'd written, but still . . . the thought of having to rewrite so much both exhausted me and broke my heart.

I didn't write again for a long time. Not because I didn't want to, a part of me did. And I did write a page here and there, little moments that came to me. But nothing serious or of any length. I was still too heartbroken. It probably sounds pathetic, but it truly broke my heart. To have something that was such a part of me, such an integral element in my life, to have it be fractured and broken like that . . . it hurt. I didn't blame anyone for it, I knew that it didn't mean to them what it did to me. And I know in at least one case, one friend was so frantic about having lost what I'd lent him that he even had a reward out for the binder that had been stolen that had my pages in it.

So anyway, I took a long sabbatical away from writing. It wasn't until much later, after I was married and I think after I had my daughter, did I finally go back into the world of writing. My reading had never stopped, and when I made my way back to my muse, what I was reading at the time was Julia Quinn. She is a Regency Era romance author, and she is one of my top three favorite authors. I loved her books, every one of them, for their characters and their humor and the richness of the writing. So it's not surprise that my first story I wrote coming back to writing was a Regency Era romance. And, looking back, this time it was more the plot that has issues while the writing had greatly improved. I guess that's what time and experience does to you.

It was a bit of a slow start, but from there on, writing was back in my life, and over the years since then (it's been four or so) I am confident that I have written in excess of thousands of pages of single spaced typing. I finally got myself a laptop when I got married, an easier and faster way to write, and boy have I made use of that system. At this very moment, in my muse folder, I have 152 items, including 9 folders that have multiple other documents in them. And this is not counting any co-writing I have done with my dear friend, that's another . . . 6, I think. That gives me easily another few hundred pages. I promise I am not bragging, I am just stating how far I have come in his new era of my writing. I've been busy. And I have loved it.

If I were to pick out the flaw in my writing that bothers me the most, it might be consistency. The reason I have 152 separate items in my muse folder right now is because I have over 180+ separate stories going on. And I have only ever finished (I use that term loosely) maybe 5 of them. That is pitiful. It's not that I don't want to finish, in fact I would dearly love to finish. To read those stories and laugh and cry with my creations. It's just that the muse is flighty and picky with me, and unfortunately never stays with the same muse for long. It rests comfortably in that muse for a few days, maybe a few weeks, on the rare occasion even a month or so, and then takes off again, flitting to another one or going off to take a vacation, leaving me in a slight stupor from writing and a little bit anxious about when my muse will return. And my poor characters, in my poor story, sit untouched for who knows how long. It makes me feel so neglectful!

I visit them. I read over what I've written and I wish I could write more. I wish I could finish those stories. But when the muse isn't smiling, I can't write like those characters deserve. But I visit them, and still love them, and whisper promises that someday, they will have their ending. Someday.

I am always promising a someday, and I swear that someday will come. Hint hint, muse. Stop flitting. Come back. And settle already!

Wanna know what my most recent two victims are? An unstable workaholic father who falls in love with the nanny taking care of his son, and a female cross of Jason Bourne and every awesome action flick chick you've ever seen. They are amazing. A lot of my writing is inspired by things in my life, what movies I've seen, what songs I'm listening to, what actors or actresses I'm obsessing over, etc., and these two are no surprise. Well, actually, my super secret agent/spy girl was kind of a surprise, she snuck up on me, but I have had her niggling around in my brain for awhile now. In the time I have been writing these two muses, I've written something like 90+ pages between the two of them, and not even made a dent in how long their stories will eventually be. I have pivotal moments, or nonsense moments that pop into my head, a string of events that I organize into chronological order and hope beyond hope that someday I will be able to knit all these pieces together into a complete and understandable story. (I hate that part, by the way. The knitting.)

I wish I had the focus and the inspiration to be able to just work on one story at a time. I really do. But it seems, that whenever I have the muse smiling at one muse, the muse tends to smile and give me ideas for several all at one time. So, really, focusing on one is really just unreasonable. If I have an idea for a muse, be it a sentence, a picture in my head, a phrase, an emotion, anything, I HAVE to write it down. And if I postpone, if I just make myself a note to do it later, I lose the magic of the moment. And it's quite terrible, and it makes me feel horrible, so I get stuck between four or five different muses at the same time, trying to do them all justice with completely separate emotions happening in each one, and it's truly exhausting.

I sound like a deeply disturbed person, don't I? Well, that's because I am. Disturbed and annoyed and pestered and gifted by having these amazing, wonderful, absolutely hysterical characters in my head. I can't even claim this brilliance for myself, I have imaginary friends in my head telling me to write brilliant things. And I do hope they never stop.

Truly, words have changed my life. Reading them, hearing them, writing them, words have become a ruling part of my life, a majority of who I am. And even if no one in the world ever reads my words, it is enough for me to have written them. To have them out of my head and in a physical form is something beyond spectacular. To someday have someone read them, and maybe love them even a fraction as much as me, maybe that would be too much to hope for. But it could happen. As much as critique and criticism scares me, I would be willing to let my words be read anyway, just in case one person finds something worthwhile in them.

Maybe that's just what all this is about, this lonely little post floating out there in the abyss of the internet. Maybe someone will catch it in their net as they surf along one day, and maybe they will want to read more. Maybe they will read what I have written, and they will smile. Maybe. And out of the words I treasure beyond my ability to say, I will have created something . . . beautiful.

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