I’ve been thinking a lot of about the talks given at the Otter dinner the other night as well as other talks I’ve heard from writers over the years. Sometimes listening to writers give those talks is hard for me. It seems like everyone has some concrete moment in their past that connects them to books and to words, that draws them to the writing life. A magical moment that brings tears, the good kind, as they look back and wonder how they got to be the writer they are today. I don’t have an inciting incident in my life for why I do what I do. I don’t have a treasured memory of driving for hours to a favorite bookstore or of being read my favorite book by some family member. I don’t remember first learning to read or write. I got yelled at for checking out too many books from the library and I got in trouble from teachers for writing papers longer than they were supposed to be. Not the sort of events that might lead one to a literary life.
As a child I had holes in my life that only books could fill. There weren’t many books in my house and my family was not a family of readers. Just me, the oddball. The one who learned to be seen and not heard. Still, somehow, I found my way to books and words. I wish I knew how and why and when. But I know what’s most important is that I found my way at all.
Ah, but you’re being heard now. And maybe that’s the point.
Very true, thanks. I do remember when I starting to actually try to get published at least.
Ah, but you’re being heard now. And maybe that’s the point.
I may’ve posted this in LJ once upon a time, but if I did it’s been a long while, so…
At the age of 12 I’d done a wee bit of writing on and off for seven years, but mostly I was a cartoonist, and that’s what I wanted to be. I even knew the word “syndicated”. 🙂 Then that June I took a trip to Peoria, IL, to see my family up there, and staying with my novel-writing uncle. It’s the oddest thing that brings about revelations, I suppose–for me, it was sitting quietly on his basement steps (he wrote in the basement, and I knew better than to make any sounds) and spent an hour just listening to him type.
I knew, of course, that books were written by people rather than magically appearing from the ether, but for some reason that only really, truly clicked during that stair-laying hour. From that trip forward I stopped cartooning almost completely and, by the end of the year, had written my first (science-fiction) novel.
Moment #2 was on 2/28/02, when I’d spent a lot of time talking about writing but hadn’t done any serious writing in a good five years(!). My soon-to-be-wife Laurie finally had a brief, intense conversation that boiled down to “Either talk about it or DO it!” (Oddly enough, my uncle had undergone a similar conversation with my aunt many decades before.) I sat down and wrote the first chapter of a new novel that night, and haven’t looked back since. 🙂
Erm, actually the conversation with Laurie should have said “Either DO it or SHUT UP!”, to be more accurate. 🙂
oh…you already had a writer in the family? That’s cool right there. And then you can tie it to the stairs…interesting. I know that I was pushing a baby carriage when a friend called me never sending my stuff out and trying to get published.
this is an interesting point…
cuz it made me think if there’s an art equivalent. but since art is usually a subject taught at schools at some level and art is a fairly common thing introduced to most children by their parents. there really is no equivalent.
all writers were probably “artists” at some point even if just mediocre or bad ones or ones that did what they were told. but all artists were not as a rule writers. of course everything we do in schoold involves writing but that’s not the writing you’re talking about.
in my case i can’t think of the first moment of art. i seem to always have done art. i didn’t even think it was that special. sometimes it was a burden as the nuns always expected you to do all the art project and contests were the others had a choice.
art saved my life on the platground in the form of buying protection in the form of art-trades. even up umtil my freshman year of high school.
of course i’m here making a living doing art but it’s not really my art. like if you’re a staff writer at a newspaper that isn’t your book writing….
i don’t think i quite know what it is i want to do with art. i’d like it to be mine. and i’d like it to pay for itself.
Weird to make a living at art but not really be doing what you want. People at work ask me why I don’t transfer to be a tech writer. They don’t understand how different that is and how it wouldn’t feed my soul.
Re “Art Trades”:
In elementary school, I was a little often picked-on kid. I befriended a “big guy” and would draw him pictures of Frankenstien, Wolfman, Dracula etc. and he made sure no one ever picked on slatts again!
In High School, my freshman year was a disaster! Attending parochial school for all years prior, I was a serious dweeb! A bully’s prime target! One in particular had ALL the same classes as I did. He made my life miserable! BUT I saw that he had an ego the size of LA and so I started to chronicle his daily cut-ups in a certain class and depicted him as a hero (against the nemisis teacher). I would pass these around class. They became as much a hit as this kids escapades. I became his “friend”. And actually we became much better friends as time went on…
So, that’s how art “bought me protection”….
Re: to make a living at art but not really be doing what you want….
Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoy what I do for work. It has made working here for 25 years doable. I came very early on and have been taught everything like computers etc. as the arts industry and this company grew.
But I would like to “do my own thing” someday and be rewarded justly for that work…
When I was 30 and staying with my grandparents when my grandpa said, “You have an English degree–take this idea I have and turn it into a story for kids.” Of course, I was used to writing research papers, not novels. About six years later, I got it–my own way. And my catalyst was…Grandpa. 🙂
Ah…..I love that Grandpa was your catalyst. I’d like to think that mine might have been, had he lived. (My papa was the center of my world until I was 10.)
I’m sorry that your grandpa couldn’t stay longer before leaving for Heaven. I know I’m very fortunate–my grandpa is now 92. 🙂
I know what you mean – growing up, I wrote down things that made me sad (which often helped me feel better) and wrote down happy times so I could remember them later on. I’ve always loved writing, but can’t remember one specific moment when I suddenly knew I wanted to be a writer – it has always been a part of me.
ooh…I did that too – wrote down the sad to feel better. Writing down the bad stuff makes it not hurt as much.
I don’t know that there’s an inciting incident for me–been writing since I knew how, really, which puts it back to around second grade.
There was a specific point when I decided to get serious and write for publication, but the only inciting incident there was that I was just out of school, my life felt like it was just beginning, and my time outside of work was entirely my own–so it seemed there wouldn’t be a better time to start, and if I didn’t jump in and just do it, I knew I could potentially procrastinate for years and decades.
See that’s it for me. I’ve just always told stories. Sometimes verbally and sometimes written but I can’t remember not doing it.
I couldn’t get higher than a B in English in high school. I don’t even know if my english teacher read what I wrote, since I always got a B no matter what I wrote. I didn’t like to read because I didn’t want to read about other peoples imaginations- I wanted to listen to my own.
My mother won an english medal in high school and wanted to be a writer-one rejection, writing career over.
I could always draw.
I wrote a letter to my aunt who moved to florida, I was really upset that they moved and I wrote a heartfelt letter, and she told my mother and they laughed.
I decided not to put anything on paper.. because it suddenly felt like evidence!
I began making art, so noone could really tell what I meant by it.
My mother said I should be a writer.
My friends said I should be a writer.
My husband’s secretary said I should be a writer.
My husband said I should be a writer.
I love writing.
So, now I write.
I’m sorry they laughed at you putting your heart on paper. I remember doing that for a teacher who was out sick for several months. I LOVED that teacher. 7th grade. I contacted her many many years later as an adult and she had kept that letter. Man, I think she even sent me a copy of the letter. I need to try and find it. Thanks for prodding that memory.
I was specificallly trained to be seen and not heard, so I became an expert at it. I was the youngest one in the family by a long shot. My father was in his fifties when I was born, and my sibs were seven and thirteen years older. I hid in the bathroom a lot to read and write. But how I got started…hmmmm I was in 2nd grade and bringing home low grades in penmanship. My mother was aghast and made me copy things out of books and magazines. I got sick of that rather quickly and began making up my own stories. Since my first name is Lillian, I remember not being able to wait until I learned a “Z” so I could write the story of “Zillian.” And then after that the teachers oohed and ahhed over everything I write. I have a note from the principal when I was about in sixth grade or something. The teacher made me run up to the office to show what I had written. And she wrote a note, something about “potential writer or something.” Teachers always praised my writing, but the family wasn’t impressed until much, much later.
I used to have to practice my penmanship every summer. My mom hated my handwriting. Oh those were long and horrible summer days.
I used to get in trouble for reading paperbacks under my desk in math class….
Just popping in to say HI to the HUGGING THE ROCK IT GIRL! 🙂
Thanks Meg! It was a rough day yesterday so it was nice to see your virtual smile here.
Interesting topic. My mother told me I should be a writer when I was 5 and kept encouraging me. However, the first time I really started thinking about it was when we moved from New York to Florida when I was 12, and I think that move was why I became a YA writer. Before that, I had a very idyllic childhood in a small neighborhood where I knew everyone and had all the same friends from kindergarten. I wasn’t popular, but I was very happy. When I moved to Florida, I had a hard time making friends because I was very shy and never had to make friends before. Also, since I was so miserable, my mom thought it would be a good idea to switch schools in 9th grade. Nice thought, but that meant that any slight friends I’d made, I left behind. I ended up having zero friends from 7th-10th grade when I transferred yet again and made friends at the third school I attended in Florida. I felt really displaced and miserable as a teen, and even as an adult, I would often think of what I would do differently if I could go back to age 12. These thoughts stopped, actually, pretty much the time I started writing.
I honestly think if we’d stayed in New York, I wouldn’t have become a writer because I would have had nothing to write about. Who I am was formed by that experience.
Oh gosh, switching schools in the 9th grade had to be bad! I was silly enough to ASK to switch in the 10th grade. Which meant I went to one HS for 9th, another for 10th, and then went BACK to the original one for 11th and 12th. Back in the 70s there was only one reason you left school for a year and then came back, yep, everyone thought the goody goody girl got pregnant. Sigh.
I was just driving in the car and I heard Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” and it made me think of this entry.
Probably because the incident that led to my writing life is this one day when my mom and I were cleaning out the garage and we unearthed some of her old manuscripts. My mom was an aspiring writer, even has a novel that is half-finished. She was really good at descriptions. (Something which I wish I could imitate; I’m much better at dialogue.)
In any case, I came across a kid’s story about an elf that wasn’t finished. I added the last two pages and my mom was really encouraging about it. After that, I couldn’t stop writing.
But you’re right. The why and the when of finding books and words is not nearly as important as the fact that you have!