Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Writing, Sort Of

I cannot remember when I decided I wanted to "be a writer" as my life's work.

Maybe when I started reading and discovered the joy of story. Or perhaps it was because my teachers always told me I could write and that it was what I should pursue.

It seems to me like I have always wanted to write.

It has not been easy. My parents were sure that writing was not a real career and encouraged me to look elsewhere.

I remember when I was about 11 I told my mother I would grow up to write for the weekly paper. Only I would do it better, I said. I don't know about the "better" part but that is indeed what I have grown up to do.

I never wanted to write for the daily and aside from a several articles about graduations in the last 1980s and features in the now-defunct Neighbors section, that did not happen.

These days I write the equivalent of at least a book a year, only it's in articles that cover local government.

I wanted to write poetry for a while, and so I did. I published a few pieces but nothing substantial.

I wanted to write fiction and I have published a very few short stories.

Several unfinished novels lie on my shelves or buried in drawers. I have never been able to settle on a genre. I like to read mysteries, sort of, mainstream fiction, and fantasy.

Growing up I thought I would write a children's mystery series a la Nancy Drew. Then I wanted to write Gothic novels like Phyllis Whitney or Victoria Holt.

It would be nice to come up with a savvy character like Stephanie Plum but I don't seem to have that ability.

Surely I could come up with a story about a small town, with a small town hero in a small town world. That is what I know.

I learned in school and by studying other writing all about plot and pacing, characterization, denouement, delighting and destroying. I learned to write about what I know and I had it drilled into my head to SHOW DON'T TELL.

I can do all of that if I can find the time. Or I used to be able to.

Sometimes I think that maybe I have a way with words but no ability to tell a story. This is something I've wondered about for a while now.

Or maybe I simply don't have the time to spend on a long piece, since I am so busy writing short articles in order to pay the bills.

I have read Dorthea Brande's Becoming a Writer, John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write and Zinser's On Writing Well, along with many other books about writing, both as a way of life and as craft.

These books all fired me up and I generally sat down and pounded out ... something... after reading them. Who knows what the something was.

There are many days when I feel like my creativity has taken a back seat to the work of writing. Can one find art in a government meeting, after all? Where is the joy and delight in a turn of phrase when one is writing about supervisors and town council meetings or upcoming elections?

I think so, actually. Sometimes the magic of living, of watching the public's work being performed before my eyes, makes my heart dance with wonder. I don't know that this is conveyed to the reader, but I try sometimes, if I have the time.

I often don't have the time for flourishes of phrase, however. Deadlines loom. Laundry must be folded. Work work work work.

I wonder will I ever write that piece of fiction? Will I ever finish my fantasy book, my story of magic? Will my mystery ever move beyond Chapter 2?


  1. My parents were ceramic artists and rarely had the time to be creative, as they had bills to pay also. Your predicament is shared by many - it is only a fortunate few who have the luxury of being able to indulge their creativity. Every summer, I get all fired up at Touchstone, doing wood sculpture and swear that I will continue when I get home. But I never do - the chisels stay on the bench until next year. Sigh .... Bills.

  2. When the story in your head is compelling enough, the story will write itself...

    You won't be able to stop it.

    Just be able to recognize that point and start writing. 'Here's hoping it will be soon.

  3. Just checking in one last time before tomorrow's trip...not a lot of time but did want to say that creativity is like a tree growing in a finds its voice in unlikely seldom the ones we think of. PS: I got a chuckle out of your comment about voting in Florida...

  4. I think, sometimes, it just takes a long while to find our true creative voice. I found mine for a while a few years back, then lost it and have been trying to get it back since then. Everyday life does intrude, but I think, at some point, it's just a matter of forcing yourself to go ahead and write, whether you feel inspired or not. I have found, for me, finishing a story or a poem or an essay, for that matter, is the hardest part of writing and it takes great discipline to make myself face the blankness of those pages. Perhaps you might benefit from finding a writing group, where you might find encouragement and help in moving forward.

    By the way, did you ever find that writing cabin you were looking for?

  5. I agree with Redhen. For years I've dabbled with this and that, a column here and there, songs, poems, short scripts, tv spots, trailers, blogs, an unfinished memoir, but never the elusive "completed" book. Many years ago a psychic told me to be patient, my story would come out when my heart was opened. I think she was right, as I had to live what I'm now writing about...106 pages as of today. I'm in no hurry and work on my own schedule, but know this one will be completed. You'll know too when it's time to move beyond chapter 2...just keep that heart open.

  6. I am glad that you see and appreciate the art of the public work. The very daily things are beautiful, but in a different, definitely more subtle way than the novel. I agree with Red Hen. When the time is right, it will flow out. You will be ready with tools handy.

  7. Yes you will, because writers can not help but write. Half the battle is staying put long enough to finish one's train of thought. With two children, I have yet to master that. But as Scarlett O' Hara said, "Tomorrow is another day"

  8. I enjoy your writing. I have always loved to read and I can tell I'm reading a good book when the author pulls me and the story unfolds in my mind. I have read stories you've posted and it was the same effect. I could "see" the story in my mind and I felt the emotions of the story. And your stories stay with me, which is another indication to me they are good. I have heard a lot of authors, including the famous ones, write very early in the morning before they feel fully conscious for the day. It helps the imagination or sub conscious fuel the creative process. I hope you keep your dream of writing a book going. I'd love to read your books!

  9. I wanted to add to my comment above that I think you clearly have both a way with words AND the ability to tell a great story. I know that I have certainly enjoyed the many wonderful stories about your family and your life in the country that you've told on your blog. And, clearly, you have many readers (including me) who come back eagerly and regularly to hear what you have to say!

  10. It's like a carpenter never gets his own house fixed.

    Before I could write I talked it out loud. Writing is like talking on paper after all.

    I still remember the first time I saw Erma Brombeck and was shocked that you could have job and get paid for what she was doing and I knew I could do something like that.


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