Warning: This is maybe not the most cheerful post ever. It includes no love of buff superheros. Only personal struggle.
It all started with the sentence, "Sally is my dog". A great illustrated classic about one girl and her beagle, Sally Jessy Raphael. For starters, let me tell you that I didn't name the dog. That was my mom. I don't know, I don't ask questions, I just roll with the weird names. Which is probably where I got my talent for naming animals weird stuff. Yes, the cat named Steve. Although technically that was my husband's doing.
One little sentence was my start. It forever changed the way words work for me. Actually, it was probably more to do with my best friend in fifth grade said, "I want to be a writer!" And I replied, "Me, too!"
Because I'm a copycat.
Yep. That was it. Except it wasn't an eleven-year-old's passing fancy. Well, at least for my eleven-year-old self. Best friend moved on to other things. For me, it wasn't this week I want to be a ballerina, even though I did want to. Or this week I want to be an astronaut, because my mom told me I couldn't. It's true, I used to get motion sickness really bad and also, I can't do math to save my life. NASA crashed enough shuttles without my help. It was a real honest-to-God I want to be and I am going to be.
Never mind that my first novel was about (garble, garble, garble, garble). Your first novel is supposed to be bad. Especially when you're eleven. So I learned to spell bigger and less amusing words than toilet (although my potty humor still tickles me on occasion).
Recognizing the glutinous way I absorbed words, my parents encouraged my love of
all most things written. I imagine my hunt and peck search for letters on the Brother typewriter--the kind that you could write out a whole sentence on, push ENTER and have it type it all at once!--drove them insane. My dad used to yell at me because I wrote with the caps lock on. "No one can read that," he grumbled. "You need to learn to do it right." Um, because you can? "It doesn't matter if I can or not!" Uh-huh.
By the time I reached twelve, I had discovered l'amour. At least in books. Let's just say I wasn't screamingly popular in school. I, uh, had a thing for dinosaurs and the other kids thought it was w-e-i-r-d. Nevertheless, I knew from playing Barbies that boy meets girl, girl gives boy a hard time, something terrible happens, and then everyone falls in love and the sun shines brighter and angels sing and rainbows explode from nostrils and nobody ever goes hungry again.
Romance is everywhere. Maybe because it's so difficult to find in real life, but even thrillers and horror movies have love. That's probably also a ploy from script writers to draw in women to movies, but whatev.
So I was well on my way to writing love stories thorough out high school. God, and the angel He designated to personally watch my every move, alone know how many stories I stopped and started. With the intent of someday being sickeningly wealthy one day like Nora Roberts. Not that I know if she's sickeningly wealthy, but I'm just saying that thought had appeal.
For me, it was like breathing. It was something I couldn't not do. A reflex. When my characters were sad, I was sad. When they were cranky--watch out world, I was cranky. And happy! Oh, my! Entire worlds at my fingertips. It felt amazing. Characters to destroy or make whole. Ah, the heart of the matter, one tiny slice of life that a human can control. Crush them, I did. Make them as alive as I am, I did. There are still one or two of those early characters than I love as much as you can love anything that isn't real.
All the writing about suffering in the world didn't prepare me for real suffering. No one tells you (probably because there aren't words for) what kind of void it leaves in you when you lose someone you love. And I didn't write again for five years. It looked like that starry-eyed kid would fade into the background, just another mindless drone to add to the mix.
It wasn't that I didn't try. I made an attempt, once or twice, to revive an old story or two. Mostly I watched a cursor blink or a pen lay on top of a notebook until I found something better to do. But I couldn't escape into any of the worlds I created. It was just... gone. Something I'd felt for ten years just vanished. So I stopped thinking about it.
It's funny how five years can pass, moving like molasses, but when you look back, it seems like they went by in a blink. It's really funny how much you can forget (or maybe you start to realize how much you never knew) when you leave something behind. You should never, ever be stripped of your goals. But it happens. Sometimes getting knocked down makes you get to your feet a little slower. And sometimes, you get up even if you're still licking your wounds and make an effort.
A bad effort, maybe. When people are staring at you and don't quite know what to say after you think you've done an amazing job and it hits you like a ton of bricks that you haven't, well then, good. Not 'ha-ha, you failed' good. If you're very, very lucky, those people who don't know what to say will think of something to say and you will get better. Because that spark comes back and you'll do everything in your power to get better. Sure, learning the ropes is tedious and boring, but you need it. I need it. I still need it.
One day, determined not to be left behind, determined that someone should read (and hopefully remember) something I'd written, I sat down and started another novel. It was like that feeling you get when you're mostly asleep, but you're falling and you jump to wake yourself up (I've always heard if you don't jump, then you die. True/untrue? Thoughts?). The part where you wake up and realize it was only a dream, you aren't really falling to your gruesome, splattery death. Relief, I think it's called.
I won't bore you with the details of that novel. I meant it to be glorious and wonderful, my grand entrance to the published world, but it's not. I think it was my transition novel, the one that never finds a home on a shelf, but gets you on the right path. That story is here, in back posts for you to read if you're that bored. Some days I wake up and think I'm wasting my time with all the writing I've been doing for the last two years. Yep. That's it. Two years. My ambition is barely out of diapers. I wouldn't trade those two years for any of the things I've learned. For any of the writers I've met, any of the sparkle I see in a new writer's eyes. New writers, don't quit because you'll lose ground. Believe me, I've been there. You shouldn't have regret for the things you didn't do (someone poke me and remind me of this when I'm wailing about how much my writing life sucks). Me, I'm going to regret the things I did. ;)
BTW, do you like the teeth marks in the pencil illustration?