When Did You Know You Wanted to Be a Writer?
One of my Facebook/writer friends recently posed this question and quickly received a number of responses. I thought about it a while, but my answer was too long for a Facebook response.
The first time I remember doing any serious writing was my sophomore year in high school. I had a young English teacher, fresh out of college, who was determined to teach us creative writing. One assignment was a short story, and I wrote a mystery/romance with an O Henry twist. The teacher liked it, particularly my use of imagery, and asked me to read it in front of the class. As an innocent 15-year-old, writing “romantic” things was one thing, but reading them aloud was a completely different matter. I thought I would die of embarrassment.
Our next assignment was to write about a personal experience and a lesson we learned from it. My story was called “The Green-Eyed Monster” and was about the envy I experienced when my brother was getting a lot of attention for something he had done. I remember standing in my closet and whispering I wish I’d get some attention around here once in a while. Not long afterward, I got more attention than I wanted when a blood vessel in my throat ruptured and wasn’t detected until I started throwing up the results. Being a good little Southern Baptist, I attributed my illness to God’s disappointment at my pettiness and assumed it was His way of showing me up close personal to be careful what I asked for. My teacher didn’t like this one so much. In fact, she read it to the class as a bad example. She didn’t attack the writing but rather my conclusions. She probably wasn’t a good little Southern Baptist like me. Thankfully, she read my composition anonymously, but I recognized it. I’ve never taken criticism well, and I decided right then that I no longer wanted to write my innermost thoughts, at least for other people to read.
My pen lay dormant until my freshman year in college. I attended an after-hours political discussion group a few times and had a mini-social awakening. For a few months, my head swirled with ideas, and I wrote what I was sure was earth-shaking social commentary. I wasn’t sure enough to let anyone see them, though, and after a few months, my priorities changed. Before my 20th birthday, I had a bout of mono, got a “real” job, was swept off my feet by a dashing young man in a red VW, and got married. My pen went back into hibernation for a while.
For the next several decades I wrote sporadically. I scribbled about defining moments like the birth of my son and the break-up of my marriage, but my work was carefully hidden in a file drawer or destroyed altogether to insure no one got a peek at my real feelings.
I did a lot of writing in the business world. I worked in banking, oil, insurance, and manufacturing, and I became the go-to person when someone wanted a well-worded, concise letter, a memo, some snappy ad copy, or informative training material. I dabbled with a series of Bible study lessons based on women in the Bible, but those lessons were lost when an outdated computer bit the dust. I also wrote a couple of travel articles for a sailing club and a few more for a Harley chapter newsletter.
Then I became a caregiver. My aunt who had been there and done that suggested I keep a journal. She said it might help me work through my feelings and that it might prove to be helpful to other caregivers. I scribbled a bit, but still sporadically and very privately. Finally, in the fall of 2007, we took a 7-week trip in a newly acquired motor home, and we took my parents with us. I kept a daily journal and allowed some close friends and family members to read select portions. When they didn’t scoff and, in fact, reacted positively, I continued.
It took four years and lots of re-writes to turn that journal into a manuscript called A LONG AND WINDING ROAD, A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos. In the process, I came out of the writer’s closet, so to speak. I posted my writings on Authonomy.com and received some constructive criticism and lots of encouragement from other writers. I submitted my writing to several publishers and agents and received a host of polite “no thank yous”, but that didn’t hurt nearly as badly as I expected, and I got more encouragement here and there. I continued to market my manuscript, but ideas kept coming, so I created a personal blog and continued to write.
Going back to answer the original question, I guess I knew I wanted to be a writer, or had become one, when the need broke through the fear – when the need to put thoughts into words became greater than the fear of rejection or criticism – when new ideas bubbled up from that writer place inside and wouldn’t let me sleep until I let them flow through to the keyboard. Hi, my name is Linda, and I’m a writer.
NOTE: In December I participated in a Twitter pitch contest and met the wonderful people at Anaiah Press. A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos will be released on July 1. You can follow my blog at Life After Caregiving, and you can find me on Twitter and Facebook.