Thursday, August 9, 2012

One Writer's Journey: The Only Road I Know

Notebook wih spiral and red cover  

On the road of Who Am I, the signpost painted "Writer" is an easy one to recognize, even before the words are readable. It points up a long, quiet hill. Amusements are few, though the folk not walking this road have a habit of referring to it as "fun." Fellow travelers are few, too, but they tend to be the latching-on type. If you find but one, you won't be alone anymore.

If you start down the road, you gradually realize it's less quiet than you thought. You also realize the voices that keep you company are born inside your own head. You learn not to share this with people walking other roads, but when you tell your fellow Writer's Road travelers, they're just as giddy about it as you are.

Most people seem to find this road in high school. Or in college. Or after marriage. Or after/while raising kids. Or after retirement. They can point to a moment in time or a gradual realization that stamped them with this identity. "Hey, I don't just 'like to write.' I'm an actual ... writer."

Then there's me.

"When did you know you wanted to be a writer?" I never didn't know. In first grade, I wrote my first story. It was about a pink elephant named Andrea. I had no choice in the subject matter; the blank write-your-own-storybook had an elephant on the cover, not a person. I thought this was stupid, but I made it work. Andrea got lost in the woods, and an angel led her home. I intended to write a sprawling generational elephant saga, but my attention drifted once the angel reunited Andrea with her grandparents (she was an orphan, of course--more drama). After all, I wanted to write about horses, not elephants.

So I got a spiral-bound notebook. In second grade, I wrote my second story. It was a typical girl-and-her-horse story with one exception. I killed the horse. I mean, who would see that coming? And why did all the books I read end so happily all the time? Tragedy was more interesting. What would my main character do now that I'd taken her horse away? (Turns out not much, since I gave her a new horse straightaway and then ended the book.) But that same girl came back for two more stories--one in which she learned to forgive the kid responsible for the death of Horse Number One.

I kept writing. I never stopped. Fiction got put on hold while I earned my English degree, but not because I'd decided I wasn't a writer. On the contrary, I was finally truly learning how to write. I gobbled craft books. I inhaled literature and literature and more literature. I wrote research essays and personal essays and rhetorical analysis and literary criticism. I graduated in December and started my series, Haven Seekers (called Underground Truth back then), in January.

I worked on it, scrapped it, started over, scrapped it, started over. Read more craft books. Revised. Rewrote. Scrapped. Rewrote. Revised. For eight years.

The writer's road is not fun. It is not easy. It is discipline. It is emotional effort and mental effort. Some days I write even though I don't want to. Some days, I don't write even though I should. But this is my road, and I love it.

I hit that signpost in first grade. I eyed the long, tedious, beautiful hill and said, "Yes. That's where I'm going."

I will never look back.