wanting to be a writer

I’ll bet it’s been a decade since I gave NaNoWriMo a go. I completed the task of writing a 50k novel in a month at least once, but once the blogging community died, so did the camaraderie of the event. Yes, they have a website and forums too, I think, but it was far more fun engaging with the bloggers and writers in my own circles, and those circles are long gone.

To achieve the end goal, I will need to write about 1500 plus words a day. It’s not really as hard as it sounds. 1500 words is five pages ish. The hard part is five pages and then five more pages that are coherent and connected. Those pages have to be going somewhere. Blogging is much easier because every post is self-contained. I am not trying to tell a story from one day to the next. So I am not at all sure I am up to this task at the moment.

Of course, on the other hand (because there is always another hand), does it matter? Does it have to be any good? It could just be an exercise in getting back to fiction writing. Priming that pump, so to speak.

It’s a bit late in the day to churn out six pages. If I do this, I will start tomorrow. And it’s not like I don’t have ideas. We are living in end times of a sort and perhaps instead of torturing my family and friends with my doom scenarios, I should just write one down. Or I could explore the life I think I might have had with my natural parents if society hadn’t shamed my mother into giving me up for adoption.

The bones of novels exist in my brain. Hell, they literally exist in a dozen scribblers squirrelled away in various drawers in my house. I have been writing stories since I could think. It’s really not that onerous a step to type them out.

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My four year old loves to write. She will sit with a notebook and pen quietly scratching away in a language that is half letters/half symbols, and I wonder if she is mimicking me through example or DNA. When I was her age my stories were more of the performance art variety, told to invisible audiences via dolls or dance. Although I loved books, it hadn’t occurred to me that my stories could be written down for others to read.


I know I have written about this before, but my first written story was about pirates. Sister Rita, a tiny prune-faced thing who was barely taller than the shortest fourth grader and painted her meticulously filed nails bright colors that I am sure the Pope would have disapproved of, took the red pen that all teachers must have been issued with their licenses back then and buried my artistic endeavor under editing marks she never taught us the meaning of. If I had not been born a writer that might have been the end of my authoring days but for the fact that Sister aside, people liked to read what I wrote.


I began to write obsessively in the fifth grade.  Writing filled up the days while I was waiting for the other kids to “get it” so we could move on and was a way for me to look productive while I hid from the subjects that bored or perplexed me.


By high school, when the education process had progressed from the merely tedious to a test of my endurance, the idea that I could build a life and even make a living from writing was starting to take hold and was probably one of the bigger reasons I ended up in college. I thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that I could learn how to be a writer there.


University is a piss poor place to learn about writing much less become an author. Long story short, I became an English teacher instead. An English teacher who knew less than zero about grammar and couldn’t spell.


It was teaching grammar to thirteen year olds (who had no idea I was a mere chapter ahead of them every day) that taught me to love the language as much as I loved to see myself think on paper. But I still wasn’t a writer.


Ironically, it was graduate school that made me  focus on my writing  again. By treating it as a craft, I had many opportunities to test my abilities in an impartial setting . That and watching someone I loved beyond logic die right in front of me for months and years finally tipped the scales. I guess that is why the Palahnuik quote jumped off the page at me. I became a teacher only partly because I loved it. The other reason had to do with losing my confidence in myself and my gift and succumbing to the idea that one’s life work is about security not passion.


I began to blog about six months or so after my husband, Will, died. It was much the same as the writing that I had done as a teenager. Just thinking on “paper” but now I was very conscious of the process and the  idea of writing as a life began to flicker.


It was Rob who fanned the flames again and continues to do so. I think he will understand the quote, and the photo as well.


I envy those who can do what they love from the beginning.

“Art is what you find when the ruins are cleared away” Interesting quote. I wish I knew who to attribute it to, but I first heard it while viewing an interview the children’s author, Gary Paulsen. There’s a guy who had ruins to pick through if anyone did. He said that a writer has to be willing to “go there”. I guess he means the dark places that lurk, mostly unseen, in everyone. I think that is my problem right now. I know what it is I want to write about but I am having trouble “going there”, and I am looking for anything that will distract me from the task. Trouble is a story is like a child. It never lets you alone. And unlike a child, you can’t turn on SpongeBob to get a little peace from it. And even though I have plenty of rubble to pick through, I am not sure that I would call myself an artist. A technician maybe. Writing is skill as much as it is a gift. I remember the first story I ever wrote. It was about pirates. I got the idea from one of those storystarter cards the sisters would give us to keep us occupied during language arts classes. A clever way to teach the mechanics that they surely came to regret as they plowed through dozens of awful flights of nine year old fancy. I was so proud of that story. I had been making up stories in my head from the time I could remember but had never thought to write one down. Sister didn’t think much of it. It was returned without a star and bleeding with red ink. I was an awful speller (never made it past the K list) and had comma addiction. Fortunately, I thought Sister was an idiot. I kept on writing stories. Notebooks and binders full. I still can’t spell but that hasn’t been an issue since the advent of the PC. I still like commas. I stopped writing about ten years ago though. I can’t really say why. Well, okay, maybe I can. I wanted to quit teaching and go back to graduate school at Iowa. Get into the Writer’s Workshop. Got rejected. A real writer wouldn’t have let that stop her, but I didn’t consider myself a real writer. Which is funny because I am nothing but a writer, always have been. I stopped listening to that nine year old inside me and that was a mistake because she had a much clearer grasp on who we were. So, here I am. Back in the ruins, shovel in hand and hesitating. Real writing is work. It is not all manna from heaven, although that does happen sometimes. Mostly though it is sitting and searching for the words that will connect thought with reader. Recently I caught a rerun of a Charlie Rose interview with George Lucas, and Lucas was talking about writing. Something I am sure that some people would argue he shouldn’t do to much of. But, he talked about the difference between his style and that of Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola, he said, just believed that you should write as quickly as possible and get it all down and done. Come back to it and write it again. And again. And eventually you have a finished work. If you didn’t. If you spend too much time worrying about every choice of word or phrase or placement of puncuation, you would never finish. Lucas made a good point, even if he never really did explain how he wrote a story. Summed up my current dilemma nicely. I am worrying too much. I need to just write. The faster. The better. My nine year old self was correct when she came to the egocentric conclusion that critics were stupid. Let he who has picked stones from the ruins be the first to cast them at me.