12 July 2006

WBWWS Topic Question for July

What started me writing- what keeps me going?

I started out a voracious reader as a child and somewhere in my high school career I lucked upon two teachers who corrupted me even further, an English teacher that introduced me to poetry and Shakespeare, and an Art teacher that gave me copies of Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre to read, then would casually ask, “What did you think?”. Corruption in four little words. Once you start someone thinking outside the box, there is no going back.

I ventured out into the murky waters of writing my own stuff. Short stories, a few poems. When I got to college, I found a vast community of like minded people. Writing tugged at me, but so did art. I ended up dual majoring in art and philosophy, desperately trying to strike a balance between the written word and created vision. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the narrative form is an integral part of all my artwork, whether I intend it or not.

Seventeen years ago, I wrote my first book. Living in the west I wrote a ‘modern’ western set on the rodeo circuit. My now ex-husband had a friend, who knew an agent, so we naively packed it up and sent it off. Opportunity knocking. I received a very nice response that while I had good storytelling basics, I needed to work on my basics- the occasional slip into passive tenses, the info dumping, and the sub plots. So what now? I didn’t know, I thought I had to write a new book and can the old one. I put the book away and started on something different while steadily reading on writing. Several years later I discovered the Internet, and the ability to research anything, anytime. I researched and wrote. Novels mainly. I estimate when all is said and done I probably wrote the equivalent of 5- 100,000 word novels, plus dozens of shorter (40,000 word) pieces. Counting my rewritten western, I think I hit my “Million words before you’re ready to write a real book” mark, and about that time, I became happier with my writing.

So I was ready. I was restless. I wanted to create my own world. I loved ancient history, Roman and Greek mainly, but I wasn't comfortable enough to set a book in either place. I also loved epic stories, stories about good vs. evil and the inner struggles of a hero. I played "what if". I read my way through the fantasy/scifi section of the local library. I suddenly had certain characters that bothered me day and night, nagged me to tell their story. I started with one book, wrote several chapters, had to take time off when my mom died. When I came back, I had different characters. The hero came home on the plane with me. I knew his story. He wanted me to tell it, demanded I tell it. So I started again, and got further this time. Halfway through, another character reared her head. The woman who appeared for the new novel was a complete surprise). She wanted her story told. This time, having read every book on writing known to Amazon, I was ready. I outlined.

I confess, I was one of those who scorned outlining, and it shows in my earlier work. I finally found/figured out a method that works for me. No Roman numeral ball and chain like high school. I had three paragraph beginning, middle end outlines I could expand on. I feel liberated! I feel prolific. I can get the basis of the story down, the character is content to wait his or her turn, and I don’t feel helpless as I approach the book and have no idea what happens between the big plot points. This is what keeps me going. I no longer fear concentrating on the present book while another good idea goes down for the third time because I didn’t pay it enough attention. I also spent the past three years writing poetry, intensely. It helped strike a balance. When I couldn’t write on the novels, because I was mulling plot points, I wrote poetry and was happy. When I couldn’t do either, I did printmaking and was happy at being creative artistically. It was all about balance. I finally learned it’s okay not to write everyday- despite what writing magazines and books would lead you to believe. My style is to read and research voraciously, let ideas percolate, then work in a frenzy. I’m okay with that. Finally. So I may not get published until I’m 50. That’s okay too. The biggest thing I learned from my passionate study of ancient history was that things cycle. My opportunity will come again, and this time, I’ll be ready.

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