To learn more about why I'm writing this new blog series, and my inspiration for writing it, READ THIS.
A teacher once asked me, when I was a freshman in high school, “When do you know you’re most yourself – your real self?”
“When I’m playing with words,” I said.
Whenever I held a book in my hands and escaped into the stories other people wrote, I felt safe, comforted, excited, capable, validated, and smart. At that point in my life, I had not yet become courageous enough to put my own words out into the world. Those squiggles that began when I was seven and matured over time into poetry, short stories, and journal entries were still just private parts of me that I never imagined anyone else would ever care to discover. So I kept them tight to me, protecting the words and the feelings they invoked from the decay of others’ judgment. So close are words to me, that I dream in sentences growing across a blank page, not in images (like normal people)... but that's a story for another day.
In my mid-twenties, it occurred to me that what came out of my imagination was not any worse than what many others found the bravery to express. The only exceptional thing about them was the stick-with-it-ness attached to the hands that pushed the pen and tapped the keys. I assumed I was capable of at least that.
Thinking it was expected that writers do these things in prescribed stages, I began with poetry… because after all, doesn’t everyone? This was back in the early days of ‘vanity press’ publishing, long before independent publishing had any credibility, and when it was nearly too expensive to manage. Many who did it were simply crossing off a bucket list item, not really serious about what they were doing… what it meant… where it might lead. So I published, sold the inventory I purchased, broke even, and called it a success.
Having jumped that ‘required’ hurdle of expectation, several years later, having rallied my courage again, I sought out work at a local newspaper. I’d been quite good at crafting research papers, bibliographies, and third-person narration that speculated on what could have been facts, back in high school. I thought, how much more different is that from journalism? Isn’t it all just asking questions, getting answers, and putting it all together in some digestible format that didn’t make people wretch? I found a team of people who were willing to take a chance on me and mentor my skills, even without prior experience or a degree. I was incredibly fortunate. And, it turns out, the truth wasn’t that far off from my expectations. I learned a lot about working inside deadlines and delivering writing that occasionally impressed my editor. I enjoyed the work, and my confidence soared as I moved from ‘life-cycle’ stories and book reviews to features that shared the emotional depth of my interviews and an intrigue about the topics. It was fun to receive an assignment, do the interview, then plot out how the story would sound best when read aloud. That was always my focus – the voice of the story. That, for me, was the thing that made it relatable to the reader. As it was with novels, so it was in journalism.
A few years later, I was hired to write for radio. If ever you’d like to do a study in micro-flash-fiction, radio is the best way to learn that formula. I was tasked with writing short vignettes of perhaps thirty or sixty seconds… sometimes shorter, that evoked a clear emotion and left a lasting memory… and I got ‘bonus points’ if I was somehow able to work in a song title or phrase from the lyrics. It was a remarkable challenge. The work was rewarding, and intensely intimidating. Years after leaving that work behind, I found writing short form a bit scary. Living up to the expectation of brevity to that caliber… I’d lost my confidence in it. So, I moved on to longer works. I swam deep into novels when I read and thought that must be where my best works could be cultivated.
With a very clear understanding of exactly everything I didn’t know – but desperately wanted to know - I went to college to study creative composition and early childhood literature. I never imagined that in my adult life I’d voluntarily go back to school, but I had a hunger to learn more about this writing thing, and to seriously devote my life to it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned so much more about wordsmithing and literature styles than my high school exposure allowed. I dove into it and loved it. I often asked to read more and write more than I was assigned, much to my instructors’ confusion. I knew that practice cultivates excellence, and it never felt like work… so why not?
When one of my professors asked what genre I wanted to focus on, I couldn’t decide. “Do I have to choose just one?” I asked. I wanted to try them all… dangle my toes in the potential of stories that might be within my capability. She assured me that I could splash around in as many writing ponds as I liked. When she said that, I knew the possibilities were endless, and the conventional rules would never apply to me – unless I wanted them to. That professor was only the third adult at that point in my life (my grandfather and my theatre coach being the other two) to acknowledge that my version of ‘method’ writing was legitimate.
That’s when I knew. The dream I’d hidden since early childhood of writing and living inside books could be my chosen lifestyle, without apology or regret. I made my goal to write one book in each of the (then) thirty-five major genres. More genres and subgenres have emerged, and I keep adding to my list.
So far, I’ve written and published eleven books, and I have eight more in various stages of ‘done’. I edit books, format books, market books, and work to support my writing goals and those of other writers who dream of becoming published authors… or expanding their catalogue. And when I’m not doing all that, I read.
I can’t imagine going back into a world of ‘corporate’ time clock punching, or retail sales, or food service. I’ve done all those things and found none of them meaningful or sanity sustaining. But this… this writing thing… this book thing… this is where my passion lives. It’s the foundation on which every morsal of everything I do rests. It’s the passion that fuels me and gives me courage to test boundaries and limitations while simultaneously growing my heart, mind, and spirit.
For me, writing isn’t just a hobby, some dalliance of distraction… The act of writing and the words found inside books are Things That Make Life Worth Living.
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