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Becoming a Writer: Why I Write

Monday, January 19, 2009

Becoming a WriterWelcome to the first series of 2009! And if you’re visiting my site for the first time, I hope you’ll come back regularly. Be sure to check out the Writing Series Index.

How does someone “become” a writer? That’s a question I get a lot when people find out I’m published. I’ve heard of people who’ve sat down with the companion workbook of Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, following all of the steps in it and “writing” a novel. Some have even gotten published that way.

I also know a lot of people who didn’t start writing until they were adults, and many of them have had great success as well.

But if you talk to these folks and really dig deep, you’re most likely going to find that two things are true: most of them were avid readers their whole lives and most of them have always had a very active imagination. They may have focused their creativity in other areas, like scrapbooking, sewing, painting, acting, but they’ve always been aware of that need to express themselves creatively.

So how did I become a writer?

When I was a child, I wasn’t a writer. I made up plenty of stories, but they were acted out with my Barbie dolls or in my imagination as I played outside—other people, other places, other times all came alive in my mind’s-eye and I didn’t mind playing by myself. In fact, I rather preferred it, because then I didn’t have to explain to anyone else what I was envisioning and try to get them to play along the way the story went in my head.

As an adolescent, I started to read voraciously. My fancy turned to romance novels and at the age of twelve, I ran across a series produced especially for pre-teens/young teenagers. Each had an setting that revolved around an important historical event or era – such as the Salem witch trials, the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, or the fall of the Alamo in 1836 to Santa Ana. These books grew in me not only a love for history, but a love for story telling because they inspired me to write. I wasn’t content with a kiss and a happily-ever-after ending. I wanted to know what happened the next day, the next year, the next decade. So the first writing I ever did was at twelve or thirteen years old when I started writing “sequels” to my favorite books. This, then, inspired me to start putting some of those stories that were always running through my head down on paper.

That experience—realizing I could put words down on paper and express the stories that I’d always had within me—opened a flood-gate; and for the last two decades, I’ve never stopped writing.

As I started to write, as is the case with most beginning authors, I tried to emulate the style of the writers I admired the most: Willo Davis Roberts, Candace Ransom, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and others. However, my writing was never as good as theirs. Or my story premise was not as strong. Or my characters weren’t fully developed. I’d get frustrated or bored and quickly move on to another story. Over the years, at any given time, I had three or four active stories and a myriad of others waiting “in the wings” to be written. None of them ever made it past just a few pages of writing.

By the time I got to high school, my writing was something I was very secretive about and protective of. I didn’t see writing as something that could be done as a profession and, not only that, I was embarrassed by something I didn’t understand: writing was a compulsion for me. I had to write. I couldn’t help but write. I was like a drug addict trying to hide her problem from her family. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I wouldn’t tell anyone about what I was writing. My family knew I wrote, but I think they thought I’d eventually grow out of it.

For my English class my senior year of high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to take Creative Writing. Our first major assignment for that class was to write a short story. This was a difficult undertaking for me. To that point in time, all of my story ideas were novel length, to rival War and Peace. I struggled to write a story that would fit into the ten page limit he’d given us, but finally got the story told the way I wanted to and turned it in.

For a week, I waited to find out what the teacher I highly respected thought of it.

The next Monday, he returned the papers to us. With bated breath I took mine. As I saw the red marks on the pages, I started to lose heart. Quickly, I turned to the last page to read the bottom line. What a surprise—and a relief—when I saw not only a large “A+” but that my teacher had written a note telling me that he thought I’d discovered what I needed to do with the rest of my life. Wow, what encouragement for someone who’d never let anyone read her stuff before!

Even after that comment and many more on the remainder of the writing (poetry and drama) that I did in that class, I still didn’t see Creative Writing as something I could actually do as a career. It was a pastime, a hobby . . . something I did in the privacy of my own room and allowed no one else to see much less read.

When I went to college (the first time) and discovered I could major in Creative Writing, I signed up! Unfortunately, never having had any experience with anyone reading my writing except that one teacher in high school, I was completely unprepared for what awaited me. Without getting into all the gory details, my experiences with the two CW classes I took at LSU (Writing the Short Story and Writing the Novel) were so negative that by the time I dropped out of school at age twenty-one, I swore that I’d never let anyone read my writing EVER again.

Did I stop writing? No. As a matter of fact, the few years after I dropped out were some of the most prolific in my life . . . mostly because writing served as therapy for me as I battled recovering from the major depression I’d been in that led me to dropping out. I immersed myself in my fictional world, drawing out all of my emotions, which I could not express aloud, on the page. It was during that time that I started developing the fictional setting that would become Bonneterre, Louisiana, where Stand-In Groom, Menu for Romance, and A Case for Love are set.

By the time I went back to college in 1999, however, the fire that had led me to major in Creative Writing my first time in school was back. I knew that God wanted me to not just finish my education but to focus that education on writing. While the school where I completed my undergraduate work didn’t have a CW major, I did have a couple of the most supportive professors I could have hoped for—and the general Creative Writing class was the first course I took upon my return. I knew then that I’d been doing what a children’s song had admonished me not to do: hiding my light under a bushel.

I had come to realize that God gave me the talent and the desire to write. It was time for me to “cowboy up,” put my fears aside, and start doing what He’d called me to do, no matter the cost to my emotions or self-esteem.

So that’s why I write.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, January 19, 2009 12:52 am

    Can we still enter if we won the last critique contest? Because I’ve totally re-written the first couple chapters and would love some input… 😉

    Like

  2. Monday, January 19, 2009 12:56 am

    Kaye, I have the same problem with short stories. I’m amazed at people who can write them–what do they do with the subplots that pop into their heads???

    Like

  3. Monday, January 19, 2009 4:46 am

    Alexandra–
    Yes, past contest winners are eligible to enter!

    Like

  4. Monday, January 19, 2009 12:14 pm

    Kaye, I only had time to scan this. But I love how you make the point of writers always having creativity as their thing, no matter how they revealed it. Makes sense for me.

    Okay, I’m done waiting to receive my influencer’s copy of Stand In Groom. I’m ordering it from Amazon this week.

    Like

  5. Monday, January 19, 2009 12:39 pm

    I’ve never dabbled much in short stories either. I just don’t understand how you can condense all of that into 2000 words or less. I too have plots that rival War And Peace in scope and character numbers.

    Eileen, my copy came Friday so give it a couple more days. I was about to despair too.

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  6. Monday, January 19, 2009 1:48 pm

    My copy just came in too. It was wonderful and well worth the wait. 😉

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  7. Monday, January 19, 2009 2:02 pm

    I had a high school teacher that encouraged me to write and since then I have.

    Like

  8. Lori permalink
    Monday, January 19, 2009 4:42 pm

    It is always amazing what happens when we follow where God is leading, even if it is a bit scary! 🙂

    (no entry)

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  9. Monday, January 19, 2009 11:31 pm

    I had a teacher encourage me in my writing too, in the 5th grade. I’d been writing for a year or two by then, and would have kept writing even if she hadn’t taken the time to validate me… but in high school I ended up with an outstanding fine arts teacher, and that’s the creative outlet I pursued through college and a little beyond (I wanted to be Robert Bateman, or at least paint like him). I started writing in my early twenties, and that’s been my passion since.

    (I’d love to enter the contest. Do we have to mention this in every post? 🙂 )

    Like

  10. Monday, January 19, 2009 11:32 pm

    I should’ve said, “I started writing with the goal of publication in my early twenties.”

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  11. Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:46 am

    Please enter me in your critique contest – I’m trying to get my bum in gear for entering the Genesis contest. Who knows what will happen though.

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  12. Tuesday, January 20, 2009 11:07 am

    I remember it was either your or one of your commenters that pointed out the connection between the age most of us (women) “started” writing and the age we “gave up” our dolls. Your story reminded me of that.

    The teacher who was “impressed” with me (I always have felt teachers must have a “sliding scale” version of appreciation) complemented me on my story(re)telling when I was 14.

    I’ve been torn between the oral and written traditions ever since.

    Isn’t it amazing how shaping an early experience can be?

    Like

  13. Thursday, January 22, 2009 9:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Kaye. Like you, I never thought for a second writing could be my career. My family were supportive of my creative endeavours – to a point. I was still told very clearly that I needed a ‘real’ job. Writing, song writing, singing etc were all lovely hobbies but not real careers. It has taken almost 20 years for me to realise they were wrong! I write because I can’t not. It is a compulsion. I have too many words inside just dying to get out. I don’t have the same problem with short stories though. I write picture books where less is more. It’s been a challenge for me to attempt to write a full novel. I’m 70,000 words in…almost there!

    And I’d love to enter the competition too, please. Any advice is gratefully accepted!

    Like

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