Last year for Christmas, I received two gifts that twisted my life path. My Littlest told Mister Soandso that he wanted to buy me a computer for Christmas (it is a gorgeous RED netbook) and my sister gave me the book This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley. These were not tag-teamed gifts. Instead, both these people, 28 years apart in age, know me and know my heart. And so I began seriously thinking about what story resonated my heart so much that I needed to tell it.
That is to say, I finally got serious about writing. In the past 15-odd years I’ve started and stopped writing at least 10 novels, from all parts of the literary spectrum. (Although no non-fiction…I’m too big of a fan of hyperbole for that!) Serious meant I went to the store, bought some index cards and a package of adorable mechanical pencils and started scheming.
A story began crawling out of my brain and onto paper. Characters were birthed, a world was built. And then I scrapped nearly every damn bit of it.
I despaired that a “real writer” I would never, ever be.
But then Twitter threw out another twist in my path.
First off, I need to say that I love Twitter. I love how the limitation of 140 characters has made me a more thoughtful writer — of comedy and of fiction. Through Twitter, I’ve met in both my cyber world and my real world some very amazing people. Twitter has helped me find people like me. People who know what it is like to hear voices…not due to a lack of prescription medication but because a story is always circulating in one’s head. I’ve been tweeting for a bit over a year now and each one of those tweets has helped me find a bit more of my way along the twisting path of my life.
The first writerly twist (or it may be the second, I’m not 100% sure of the timeline, to be honest) was when the lovely winnie3k let me know that an anthology was looking for submissions. I checked with her a few days ago and neither of us remembers for sure, but we are fairly certain that the tweet in question came from either johnremy or kaolinfire . In either case, all three folks are amazing people, great tweeters and very supportive writers. Follow them if you are interested in Science Fiction, Fantasy, or basically cool cats.
One little tweet and my novel’s stack of notecards and mechanical pencils were pushed to the back of my desk as I wrote and polished a short story for the Lonely Planet’s anthology A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Encounters Around the World. I tinkered and second-guessed myself and finally submitted my first ever story. And promptly tweeted that I wanted to vomit. That, my friends, is what being a writer is like for me – lots of thinking and tinkering and second-guessing as my finger hovers over the “submit” button until finally getting the courage to just send the damn thing off into the world.
According to the editor, Don George, that anthology received over 3500 submissions. My short story made it all the way to the final round but was not selected as one of the 38 stories in the anthology. However, he wanted to publish it on AOL’s travel site, Gadling, if I didn’t find another home for it by September.
And that is what happened. So now I have that little “As a Writer” tab up at the top of my blog. Because I can call myself a writer without feeling like maybe I’m stretching the truth a bit. Which, of course, is absolute hooey. Because if you write, you are a writer. If you are a published writer, so be it.
Oh, and that shelved stack of notecards? It has grown into a young adult novel, influenced by many friends and snippets, some of which were tweeted and created my second writerly twist. (Ya hear that dlschubert, aka Debbie?) It isn’t quite finished yet but it will be within a few months. At which point a few trusted folks will get a copy to “beta read” and offer ideas of how to turn it from a “first draft” into a “final draft”. But for right now, it is still mine. Living in my heart and growing into a story ready to no longer be “my” story.
Because that’s what happens when I write. I write what the voices are telling me — sometimes that voice is my own, sometimes it is inspired by bits and pieces of other folks’ lives, and sometimes it is a character birthed straight from my imagination. But I write it and grow it and tinker with it until I am ready to share it. And then that story is no longer my own.
Once a story goes “live” it comes alive for readers and just like other living beings, no one really knows exactly how others will react to it. Some comments on my blog posts have shown me just how little I can control folks’ reactions to a piece of writing. Writing may move readers to tears or rants or even just “meh” but those reactions are not just because of the writer’s craft. Because while a reader’s reaction may be primed by the writer’s craft, it is motivated more by the history of the reader.
The comments on my “Single Square of Christmas” story have reminded me of that complicated triangular relationship at work: the writer to the story and the story to the reader and the reader to the writer. One person noted that my story “stirred up lots of memories” for him and I hope it was more of a sweet stirring than a bitter one. But, of course, I can’t really know exactly what is in his heart from just that comment.
Perhaps that is what the writer in me really is – a stirring stick, an agitator, a motivator. The writer in me is the part of my soul that demands I listen to what lives in my heart and wishes to be free.