Saturday, April 23, 2005

How did I get where I am, and where is that?

Where am I on the path to becoming a novelist? I'm on Draft Five of my first novel.

I remember in the late 80's reading my first library book about 'being a writer'. It was by Phyllis Whitney, and in 1987 it was yellowed and outdated, but it struck a chord in me I'd never heard before. This is it. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. Of course I didn't drop everything and listen to the voice, like I should have. No, it took almost 20 years for me to wake up to that call.

In my twenties (along with my ever-present day job) I tried to become a magazine freelancer, but I decided that the six months (mostly time passing, not hard labor) it took to get an article purchased by a NY mag for a whopping $400 was just not cutting it. Add all the rejections, I wasn't up to it. I needed cash and kudos.

In my thirties I tried essays, which I still enjoy writing. I had a two-year stint as a newspaper columnist, with a monthly appearance. Only one article due per month, and I eventually quit due to the stress of this deadline. Huh? My 40-something self doesn't understand or sympathize. But it happened.

I turned to fiction, and tried to teach myself how to write it. I had the number one requirement, which is that I read enough to fill my own library.

I read and read and took a workshop and a couple creative writing classes. But when I'd sit down to write fiction those early years, I just wanted to look over my shoulder to see who was laughing. Just writing the words "she said." made me feel like an imposter. I'm a reader, not a writer. You imposter, you.

In recent years I've read so many books on writing, I feel I could give a presentation myself. The problem with that theory, is that when I re-read said books (last night was re-reading "The Forest For the Trees" by Betsy Lerner, very good), it appears to be brand new information. What has happened to my memory since passing the 40 mark? (rhetorical question, I'm getting old? Yes. No. I forget.) I got through all my years of schooling simply by memorizing everything, with little effort. No longer possible.

So, back to books, workshops, books, classes, books. I finally get serious about all this around my fortieth birthday, but, honestly, even I didn't like anything I wrote. I tried a YA novel. I tried a cozy mystery. I had the mistaken idea that it might be easier to write genre than straight fiction. None of it was worth keeping even to revise.

In early 2003 I wrote the first ten chapters of my current book. In July I attended a class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and then came home, put my novel away, and didn't write again for 15 months. I was too depressed at how far my own style was from everything I learned at Iowa, in one short weekend, let me add. It doesn't take much to discourage me, bring out all my rampant insecurities.

But this past fall my youngest went to Kindergarten, and I took on writing as my second "job". I am disciplined, I am persistent. I keep writing even though it isn't good, just so I can see what happens next. And in February, I finished the first draft of my first novel. (woo hoo) I found the process of writing the first draft to be (drum roll, please) fun. Fun is good. That chord that I heard in 1987 turned into, well not a symphony, but a nice little melody, or even just a bridge, but "I like it, I like it, Yes I do" (think Rolling Stones).

I was right. Writing is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life.

So, that is where I've traveled so far, and today finds me working on draft number five of my book(more about that soon).

It is great loving what you do! Now, if only it was what I did for a living.

Where are you on your path to becoming a novelist?

Blessings,
Toni

2 comments:

  1. OK, here I am. I'm not sure how this works. Toni, I loved your web page. Here's to writing, writers, and following your dream. SueC

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