Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why do I write?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a slow realization that came about by luck or chance (or whatever you want to call it).

All my life I can remember telling myself stories in my head, but it took me until I was about twelve to develop a real passion for books. However, once it was unleashed I became a voracious reader. I think I always thought it would be cool to be a writer, but I never really imagined it would be something that I would or could do. So I just read and made up my own stories.

During my early teen years I tried my hand at the dreaded poetry, but I thought it was all awful (and it was) so I gave up.

When I was eighteen I had an idea that seemed to grow the more I thought about it. Instead of being a delicate soap bubble I couldn’t quite grasp--like most of the silly stories I came up with--this one seemed to get more solid with each new visit.  So with that I sat down and wrote out my first “novel”. It clocked out at roughly 64,500 words, which isn’t so bad for a harebrained little girl pretending to be a writer. But it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, what I had imagined it to be.  So I put it away and didn’t write again for a long time (can you see a pattern here?).

After attempting to write a novel, though, the stories in my head seemed to turn more and more epic. There were tales of old worlds where magic ruled. Thrilling space adventures of the future. Sweeping epics with love and romance.

I thought it was neat to make up stories, and sometimes I tried to put them into written word, but that didn’t mean I was a writer--I was just a girl with a vivid imagination. I respected writers, I loved books, but it still didn’t connected that it was something I could do.

Around the time I was twenty-three, almost twenty-four, I happened upon a group of writers in a small corner of the internet. It was by pure chance I met them, but I am immensely thankful I did. It was in April of 2010 when I came across a prompt in the group that sparked something.

There had been an idea floating through my for a long time:

I pictured perfectly a hilly countryside and a quaint cottage with spongy green grass, a perfectly kept flowerbed and a copse of trees just beyond the small picket fence. While all of this was extremely lovely and sweet, there was a ragged man spying on the cottage. He had left a number of years before, to fight a war, and was returning now to check on the woman he once loved. He found her in the backyard, playing with two young children. It was with a great since of remorse he realized they were her children, and she had moved on while he’d been gone.

Now, that little scene had been in my brain for years, only I could never figure out a place for it. Where was this perfect little cottage located? In the States or Europe? What war had he fought it? When did this all take place? Was it the future or past? Maybe it was another world completely.

These questions were never answered until that day in April. Something about the prompt at that moment got the gears turning (albeit slowly and very squeaky). I had recently read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, so the Scottish Highlands were fresh in my mind, along with the Jacobite uprising leading to the Battle of Culloden. It all seemed perfect for my little idea.

The battle was vicious enough, the fall out bad enough, and the place enchanting enough. I had always loved Scotland (the sheer number of romance novels I’ve read set in the country is staggering) and England; the history there so vivid and rich to me. And really, who doesn’t like a man in a kilt?

In a blaze of inspiration I pumped out a short story, and my friends enjoyed it. Asked me questions about what had happened to the couple. About what had happened while the man was away. Could they have a happy ending?

It was amazing to think I had sparked questions; that people would ponder over something I had written in the same way I did with published writers. The questions spurred me on, because I had my own questions as well. Who were these people? What did they have to say?

So I began a longer--fuller--story, but the moment I started putting words down I knew it was going to be something completely different than what I had originally thought. Everything evolved and grew, and it kinda felt like I was a writer.

I wrote one story, a novella. Then I wrote another. And another, and another. Each one grew, getting a little longer, the characters getting a little richer, and more popping up without my bidding them. I researched, I plotted, I toiled away. I would think about my characters, what would happen next. What plot points I wanted to work out, what scenes I needed to write. It sounds crazy, I’m sure, but I couldn’t not do it.

Everything flowed quickly, the stories just bursting from me, and within a year and a half I had five stories (all far from perfect) and numerous characters.  For the first time in my twenty-five years, I found something I wanted to do. Something I had a passion for. When I was younger I always admired people who knew exactly what they wanted to study or what they wanted to be when they grew up. I had never known what I wanted to do. Sure, I had those crazy little ideas when I was a kid (I want to be a professional ice skater! I want to be a marine biologist!), but nothing stuck--nothing like this crazy idea of making up stories.
That was when I realized I was writer. Not just because I had this one set of stories that I loved, but because there were other worlds and other characters with stories that need to be told. Stories only I know.

At the urging of my friends I’ve now fleshed out the first story, polished it as best I can, and am working to become an author. Which, I’ve come to realize, is much different than being a writer.

As I work now to untangle the giant, gnarled mess of string that is the publishing world, I am heartened because I am a writer. Even if I have a day job, even if no one outside of family and friends read what I write, I feel I am a writer. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I want to tell to stories, I want to build worlds and characters. It’s a very big thing for me to admit, since it was such a slow path to get to this point, but I’m so happy I finally made it.

I won’t ever be like Tolkien or Dickens or Dumas or Rowling or Austen, but that doesn’t matter. Sure, it would be nice to be a real live author--to possibly make a living doing what I enjoy--but that’s not the point.

The point is, I love it. And not writing, not telling stories, isn’t an option anymore. This is who I am, not what I am.

That is why I write.

So tell me, why do you write?

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