Becoming a Writer: Why I Write
Welcome 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.