Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unwritten

I began reading when I was three years old. By the time I was five, I read the newspaper every day. By the second grade, my teachers were telling me I would grow up to be a writer.

My journey into the world of words took me toward journalism. I remember when I was 10 years old telling my mother that I wanted to write for The Fincastle Herald, only I would do it better and right. At the time it was more like a gossip sheet than an actual newspaper. That was in the 1970s.

My mother was not thrilled with my choice of careers, and did not support the idea of writing as a profession. Her lack of faith in my abilities, I think, led me to make decisions I might not have made had I had more support. But I did go on to write for the newspaper, and I also put myself through Hollins College (now Hollins University) in hopes of learning more about the written word.

I also wanted to write books, of course. Most writers do. I have never aspired to be the Great American Novelist, though. Mostly I wanted to be a hack and write Nancy Drew Books, or something like that, like Carolyn Keene. As I got older I thought I would like to be another Victoria Holt or Phyllis Whitney. I merely wanted to make a nice living with words and use my talent. I did not want to write romances, but I liked genre writing. But I did not know how to go about that and such writing wasn't taught at Hollins, which took a more high-brow approach to the art. And at Hollins in the late 1980s, writing was art, not craft. And while I had the talent, I wasn't able to pull it together to become another Lee Smith.

So I drifted into journalism and I wrote for newspapers and magazines. Even then, I could not move beyond the small publications and into the larger world of better pay and prominence. Mostly I was afraid to submit, scared of failing, afraid to collect the rejection slips. So I stuck with the safe sells.

However, like most writers, I have things stuffed in drawers. Below is my very first completed novel. I wrote it pre-Hollins, around 1984. I typed it on an IBM Selectric II at my place of employment, which was a law office. In those days, employers had receptionists and I was one of those. I had a lot of down time and my immediate supervisor didn't care what I did so long as I looked busy. So I wrote a book.




Over the years, I have occasionally pulled this out and looked at it. It was a gothic romance, which are genre books that I read and enjoyed growing up. Those stories are no longer in vogue, though. They have morphed into vampire stories, I think.

Each time I looked at it, I changed names. Made notes about completely removing characters. Attempted to jostle it into something worthy of retyping.

In the fall of 2011, I pulled it out again and spent a good six weeks going over it. It was, I decided, crap. All of it. Nothing salvageable except the plot line, maybe. Maybe not even that.

I put it back into its box.
 

Things are different for me now. My work with the newspaper and writing for other magazines has declined considerably. Much of that was because of the recession, which cost me my steady gig at the newspaper and then brought me a slew of competitors, unemployed folks who turned to freelancing in hopes of keeping their bills paid.

In 2010, I went back to college and earned my masters in 2012. It was a liberal studies degree, not writing, though it was heavy on writing and English courses. I didn't pursue much writing at the time. I thought I might go into teaching.

And then I developed a health issue.

Rethinking my life and what I want to do with myself now at the age of 51 was not in my plans even a few years go. But nothing is as it was.

The Internet has changed publishing considerably. My first novel, though I thought it terrible, in reality was no worse than many of the things I've seen self-published, both in print and on the Internet. These days anyone who can string a sentence together can put up a story on Amazon and call themselves an author. The lure of the title has been diminished. While I do not believe every one can write, everyone else believes they can. Good works are drowning now in seas of mediocrity.

During a cleaning spell this weekend, I came across my novel, those pages typed on a typewriter. Only this hardcopy existed.

And then I turned that hard copy into this:



It's gone now, that first novel. That crap, that junk, that awful bit of work. All told it was 210 pages of drivel. I tore my name off each and every page, and shredded that, and put the rest in the recycling bin.

Over the next few months I expect more of my past writings to find their way into the scrap pile. I have long kept my chicken scratches and ideas, bits of poems, pieces of stories, unfinished articles. Whatever I find that I think has merit I will keep, but I plan to toss the rest of it where it belongs - in the trash.

Will this free me? Will this renew me and have me start anew, begin again my collection of words, lines, and stanzas? Will new paragraphs flow? Or will I give up and go do something else? And if I do something else, what will it be?

I don't know. I am in the midst of a change, a life crisis, of sorts. Tossing these pieces of paper are a beginning, as well as an end. However, I have no idea what the beginning is to. My life, like a book, is unwritten.

7 comments:

  1. oh anita, i'm kind of sad you shredded it. it was a part of your beginning and neat to look back on...sending you hugs!

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  2. It's not just "self-published" work that's crap... lately I've read garbage from the Big 6 as well. I could never shred my work, no matter how pitiful it is, but I'm the type to also not shred the box of written words from my grandfather and father that I have tucked away in a closet along with my "early" scribblings. And although they will never see a sale, they are still filled with spirit. You are a good writer and I hope your future endeavors survive "the cut!"

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  3. Resist the urge to shred. Let someone ekse read it before you do. We are our own worst critics.
    Shredding it reflects your frustration with your current fix. Not your talent. You are talented. All of us see it. As for current situation drop back and regroup. Your vouce needs to be heard.

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  4. I'm with Momcat... let someone else read it first since we are ALL too hard on ourselves.

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  5. I feel exactly the same way, except I don't have a novel to rip up. I'm not sure I'm even a writer. But you are! You have great things to say. Don't stop!

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  6. I've done the purge thing myself once or twice, and still have a drawer full of scriblings that will never see the light of day. It's true that we are our own worse critics, but sometimes we also have more clarity and honesty where our work is concerned and know when to let go of the drivel.

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  7. So write the zombie romance for teens. Add some social commentary. Make it into a movie. Your husband can retire and become your bodyguard. I can say I knew you when. :))

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