Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Do I Write?

I get this question every time I speak somewhere. There is no definitve answer. I have been writing since I was 10 years old. A teacher told me, with my imagination one day he would see me in books. I believed him. I have no idea what I had written, which made him think this. I did not save the paper he returned to me. His words have been the force for why I write.

 But that's not all of it. I write because there are stories in me needing to escape. When my daughter was little and we went north to the cabin my parents owned for our vacations, there was no televison. I spent many nights telling her bedtime stories which came from my imagination. She would fall asleep in my arms and I would put her in bed.

I wanted to write it was the career path of my heart. I wrote poetry all through high school. In my poems I could say the things I could not find the words to speak. I wrote a poem for the Junior Miss pageant and there was a gentleman in the audience who contacted my parents afterward. He wanted me to read the poem so he could record it and play it for his interpretive reading class. He was astonished I could recite it without reading from a piece of paper.

My parents allowed me to send a sample of my writing to the Famous Writer's School. A representative from there came to talk to us. We decided against it. I am not sorry. My high school English teachers rarely gave me feedback on what was wrong with my papers. I used to cringe whenever one would say: "Take out a blank sheet of paper. We're going to write today." I learned early on, I don't write on demand. My mind would be as blank as the paper in front of me. The topics we were going to write about did not appeal to me. We didn't brain storm ideas, we didn't have options. If I wrote a poem in inevitably came back with a B on it and no comments. Problem was poetry is subjective (all writing is) and they had no idea how to grade a poem. I wrote a poem from a photo a teacher passsed out. The particular poem was a commentary on the world of the 1970's. While the teacher gave it a B, a minister friend of my father's wanted a copy to use in his sermon. Yes, I gave him a copy and yes, he used it in his sermon.

I concluded I must be doing something right. People enjoyed reading or hear my poems. But I didn't know anyone who was making money as a poet. Those who did were college professors, poet laureates, and those who became speakers. Max Ellison, who lived in hovel in Frog Hollow just outside Bellaire, Michigan and started the Stone Circle in Traverse City is one of those. My goal was to write a book.

I have a group major in English, language, and literature. I took as many writing classes as I could; basic compositon 101 and 102,  journalism, feature writing, broadcast continuity writing, and narrative writing. In narrative writing my instructor told me I had talent, but she didn't know how to tell me to develop it. Great, why was I taking her class? I subscribed to The Writer magzine. I read them from cover to cover. I did many of the things suggested in those pages. It didn't seem to work. I have a collection of The Writer magazine which dates back to the 1970's. It lapsed off and on in the interim years, but I saved them and I go back to them. I no longer subscribe as they have changed their format and content. I don't feel they are as good as they used to be.

I have read more books on writing than I can count. I have an entire library section on how to write. I have Novel Writing for Dummies, If You Can Talk, You Can Write, The Weekend Novelist, How to Write the Breakout Novel and more I cannot begin to name. When I am stumped, I go back to these books. I have heard Sally Wright speak about how she organizes herself to write a novel. I have read Phyllis A. Whitney's book on how she writes, as well as Janet Evanovich's book on how she writes. I have my own way to work myself through a novel. It is entirely different from all three of those very successful ladies. I have books I need to revisit. There are not enough hours in the day.

Then there are the midnight writing binges. I will wake from a deep sleep and know I have to write down what is in my brain or I will forget. Once I start, I write until I have exhausted whatever it was which woke me in the first place. So, no, I don't have a specific time for writing. I try to write something daily. It is not always in a book I'm working on. But, I do try to write. I am a master at making lists.

Lists are a way to organize my chaotic life. Sometimes I truly believe I am an adult with attention deficit disorder. Lists help keep me on track. I make grocery lists. Lists for what I want to accomplish during my day. Lists of what needs to be done with my works in progress. I cross out things as they are accomplished. What is not done, goes on the list for the next day. I used to hang my lists on my refrigerator, next to my computer and wherever it was I was going to try to stay focused on.  I start weeks before a vacation making a list of all the things I will need to take with me. Those I can pack because they are not used on a daily basis get packed. I am going through a checklist on my way out the door. Sometimes, I even forget things. No, surprise there.

Writing releases the demons who keep me awake nights. When I couldn't sleep Saturday night, I got up and went to work on a story idea for the children's anthology I'm working on. Who is writing about leprechauns at 3:30 in the morning? Me. I have an idea for my writing I need for August 7th percolating in my brain and I know it's trying to get out.

It goes along with the question, where do you get your ideas? They live in my imagination. Some are fanciful, while others are dark. I write mysteries because I love puzzles. If you read my mysteries, you know there is not a straight path to the end. There are twists and turns throughout. You might know who done it long before they are caught. When I finally sit down to write, I have an idea. I usually have a beginning, sometimes I start several times before I get it right. I know where I want the story to go, then I invite my characters to participate. Sometimes they run away with the story. Other times we work together. There are even times when we argue, because something they want to do is out of character or doesn't add to the story flow.
I have fallen into the world of my characters and am not ready to leave them.

Yes, I have done National Novel Writing Month. I starts every year on November 1st at 12am. It runs until 12am on November 30th. The idea is to write a 50,000 word (approximately 175 pages) book. I have done it twice and won the award they give. The first one I completed in 21 days. The second one I just know I did in November. It is kamikaze writing, no time for edits, no time for changes, just get the story written. I am considering a 60,000 word book in 6 days. Which means I will be required to write 10,000 words a day. Can I do it? I have no idea. Will I try? You bet. Will the book be print ready in six days? Not a chance.

In the past year I have written two pieces of flash fiction for anthologies. Those are complete stories in 1000 words. The second one had to be between 500 and 1300 words, so a wider margin. I did not know I could do such a thing. I am very proud of both of them.

So, if you are a writer why do you write? Fame? Fortune? Neuroses? Some other reason? I'd be interested in knowing. Or am I the only crazy person?


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