To Be a Writer

Recently I came upon a contest that Amazon is having. It involves writing a blog post that talks about the moment you knew – really knew – that you were a writer. I decided to give it a go, and before long I had surpassed the word limit that the contest set. I didn’t want to change anything, because what I wrote was truth, plain and simple, so I thought I’d just post it here anyway.

I've already used this, but I feel it still applies. :P
I’ve already used this, but I feel it still applies. 😛

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was a revelation in and of itself, but it isn’t the same as actually knowing that you are a writer. Many people talk about that moment when they knew, that singular event that caused them to realize “I AM A WRITER!”, but for me it’s a little more complicated than that. My “I AM A WRITER!” moment was less a moment and more a culmination of the passage of some 15 years of growth.

I knew I wanted to be a writer after a school assignment in the third grade. We were to write a short story, print it out neatly on white paper (this was before we had regular access to computers), draw a cover, and bind it all together with construction paper and string. I can’t recall the exact plot of my story (although I could probably locate it in my parents’ attic if I looked hard enough), but I remember that it was called “The Mystery of the Emerald-Eyed Cat”. My cover featured two glowing green cat eyes below the title, and it was all bound with green construction paper. I also recall that I signed the cover “by Tracey Lynn MARIE Clarke”, not because I had any sense of what a pen name was back then, but because I was a little gone in the head and often changed my name a bit to suit my childish whims. (My teachers just kinda…ignored me, I guess…lol)  I was very proud of that story, and my teacher at the time was a truly awesome man by the name of Mr Power who praised it and suggested that maybe I might consider writing as a career choice in the future. Though I was an avid reader, this was thought that had never really occurred to me before; but in that moment I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Around the same time that I made my startling future career revelation, I met my best friend Kelly for the first time. As chance would have it, she loved writing too, and over the course of the rest of our grade school career we wrote a series of stories called “The Game Masters”, an adventure tale of a group of kids (ourselves and a few friends) who could travel in and out of video games. What Kelly and I had was an odd kind of a beta-reader relationship. We each wrote our own versions of the story – similar in many ways, but different in quite a few as well – and whenever we had each finished a chapter or two we would swap notebooks and read what the other had written. We praised each other for how clever we were, marveled at the amazing ideas we came up with and how “great” our juvenile writing was. We taught each other very little because we were so in awe of ourselves and how awesome we were, but it was excellent practice none-the-less, and it taught me another one of the joys of writing. I would strive daily to write as much as I could so that Kelly could read it. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, it was a great thrill for me to have her read it and tell me that she enjoyed it, and so with that rush of fun and reader-acceptance I continued on with the belief that I absolutely wanted to be a writer.

Junior high school marked the turning point when Kelly and I both began to dabble into more mature original fiction. I can’t remember much about those first original stories because I personally tended to jump from storyline to storyline; whenever I would get a new idea I would drop the old one and start anew. Even so, it was excellent practice in creating characters and worlds and coming up with compelling plot lines. This era also marked my first foray into fan fiction, although I hadn’t ever heard the term at this point. Kelly, her cousin Melissa, and I became enormous Star Wars nerds in these days, and part of the way I expressed my nerdiness was by writing my own little Star Wars stories. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, and I got it into my head that I was a big enough fan that I could write one as well. My story involved Luke Skywalker discovering another lost Jedi – a gorgeous young girl, of course – and training her while trying to keep her from going over to the dark side. It was incredibly geeky. In these days I began to discover that I really had quite a lot to learn. My grade 8 English teacher, Mr Reilly, was not shy about telling me exactly what I was doing wrong when I wrote, and I would regularly compare my writing style to Kelly’s, which always seemed much better to me. I learned a bit of humility, but I was still totally wanted to be a writer.

By the time Kelly and I hit high school writing time became significantly more scarce. There was more work to do, and our social lives (such as they were) became more important as well. We started dating boys, we had extracurricular activities and lots of other unrelated hobbies. Regardless, Kelly and I still found ourselves writing little stories, only now they were quickly-plucked-out mini-chapters that we would write on typewriters during our keyboarding class. This time, rather than writing two different versions of the same basic plot line, or writing our own personal original fiction, we would take turns writing chapters of the same story back and forth. The “story” was loosely called “The Day the Earth Blew Up” and featured ourselves and our friends in an ever-more-ridiculous plot of adventurous hyjinx and tomfoolery. For all intents and purposes, the point of the story was to keep trying to make it more and more foolish. At one point there was an invading army of flying mini-pizzas. Yeah, we were a little bit loopy. But this little exercise of ours taught me a few more things about writing, such as the art of collaboration, and how to keep your mind fresh and new, constantly churning out interesting ideas. Though there were now many other things in my life vying for attention, I was still certain that I wanted to be a writer.

High school graduation was a turn in the wrong direction. When it came to the desire to be a writer, I dropped the ball. I’ve mentioned it before, but in these days I made a conscious decision: I was going to put my focus into technology. I still wanted to be a writer – oh lord, how I wanted to be a writer – but I was scared of failure, scared of the financial implications, and so I made the decision to move into a field in which I knew I could still thrive, but in which I was significantly more likely to obtain gainful employment. My inner child, the little grade-3-aged girl who had just written her first story, was positively screaming at me. “You want to be a writer!” she shrieked. “What is wrong with you?!” I hold that the decision I made was a good one in the long run, but it definitely set me back several years on my true desires.

I wrote nothing for a long time. As many young people do I spent my university years cramming for exams at the last minute, ripping out assignments on the bus on the way to class, and drinking away the weekends. The work load was intense, and I had to work part-time jobs to help pay for it all. My long-time boyfriend broke up with me and I started dating the man who would become my husband. We moved out on our own and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves while somehow paying for rent and taking what felt like hundreds of hours of classes a week. At one point, sometime during my fourth (and final) year of university, I had an extreme loss of confidence in my future. I had done fairly well in all of my courses – aside from Calculus (which we won’t talk about) I made 80s and 90s in most of them – but I had this moment when I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I had no idea what kind of career I was going to end up with, I had no confidence that it was going to be something I actually enjoyed or was good at, and I’d already spent upwards of $40,000 to come to this conclusion. It was around this time that Kelly reintroduced me to what we now know is fan fiction. She’d been reading a ton of the stuff on FanFiction.net, and encouraged me to do the same. The result was somewhat different; I ended up writing on the website. I didn’t really have the time to be writing, but I became somewhat obsessed and did it anyway. The one story I managed to complete, a Harry Potter fan fic called “Cry of the Wolf”, became surprisingly popular on the website, and with that I remembered something: I still wanted to be a writer. I had put a lot of time and effort into becoming a technologist, and I was going to finish that journey for sure, but all the time, no matter what else I did, I still wanted to be a writer.

It’s been seven years since I completed my university degree. In that time I got a job, moved away from home for it, bought a car, married my husband, bought a house, gave birth to my daughter, lost my job, found a new one that required me to travel back and forth across the country, and recently got laid off from that one because the job is over. And throughout all that I kept writing whenever I could. I wrote more fan fiction, I participated in several NaNoWriMo‘s, I set daily word count goals for myself, and I started this blog. I did all of this because regardless of what else might be going on around me, of the turns my life had taken, I still wanted to be a writer. Notice that I keep using that phrasing, over and over again: wanted to be a writer. That’s the phrasing I always used in my head when I thought about myself. I always used a future tense.

“I want to be a writer.”

“I’m going to be a writer.”

“Someday I’ll be a writer.”

That has been my thought process since that first story back in the third grade.

That is, until about a year ago. I’d written a zombie apocalypse novel for the previous years’ NaNoWriMo, but over the course of the month-long challenge I’d only gotten about 2/3 of the way through the story. I desperately wanted to finish it, as I’d never finished an original piece of fiction (that wasn’t a school project). So I set myself a goal: I would write at least 1000 words a day until the novel was complete. I can’t honestly say that I stuck to it every single day – sometimes life gets in the way, after all – but in what seemed like no time at all, suddenly I had a finished story. Sure, it still has to be revised and edited, preferably beta-read as well, but I had it; I had a whole original story, from beginning to end. That was the moment, though it wasn’t as much a revelation as a slow realization. Looking at the last sentence of my novel, and thinking back to everything I’d done up to that point, that was when I realized “I AM A WRITER!”

I may never succeed in becoming traditionally published, and I may never gain financial compensation for my work, but I’ll always be able to look back on that little third-grade girl and say, “Hey, guess what? You are a writer, and you always will be.”

Twitter: The Paranoia that Binds Us

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

89. Respond to a blog post by a well-known blogger

My first thought when reading this prompt was: “A well-known blogger? Do I even read well-known blogs?” Sure, I read some blogs by people who are fairly popular, even successful, but are they well-known? How do you even define well-known? The basis of comparison that I immediately think of is that if you typed their name (or blogger handle) into Google they would be the first result that shows up. So with that in mind I set out to Google a few of the bloggers who I keep tabs on. Lo and behold, my test worked for several of them. Would you look at that…I read well-known blogs.

My second thought was: “Okay, so which post should I ‘respond’ to?” So I started backtracking through the piles and piles of posts that have been piling up on my “Blogs I Follow” page. I started reading through posts I had skipped because I was busy at the time, re-reading posts that I might not have paid quite enough attention to, and in general searching for something that I felt would be interesting to respond to. This virtual rummaging-through-the-closet ended up creating a number of distractions, as such a thing is like to do, and at some point I happened to come across a mention of “The Bloggess“. It got me thinking, that as popular as this particular blogger supposedly is, I’ve never bothered to stop by her blog.

That’s how I found myself scrolling through the most recent of The Bloggess‘ posts, chuckling to myself because, contrary to how I’d been imagining her, she’s a bit of a nut. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting – I think I was equating the word “bloggess” with the word “duchess” and imaging her as a stuck-up, better-blogger-than-thou type – but I was pleasantly surprised. Her posts are amusing, well-written, and don’t hold anything back. It was with that in mind that I finally chose a “blog post by a well-known blogger” to respond to.

The post I’ve chosen is Twitter is confusing.

My response is thus: I hear ya sis.

(Is ‘sis’ the appropriate female version of ‘bro’? Somehow it doesn’t sound right to me. Ladies, I suggest we hijack the word ‘bro’. The guys have used it long enough.)

*ahem* Anyway, I hear ya, Bloggess! Twitter is oft more confusing to me than I might admit. While I’ve never had people contact me to let me know that they aren’t going to follow me anymore, I’ve had plenty of people start following me only to never attempt to interact with me in any way, which just feels like stalking to me. That’s not to say that I assign a time-slot every day specifically to ensure that I interact with the Tweeps I follow, but I do make a habit of not bothering to follow people if I have no intention of ever interacting with them ever.

Most of my Twitter experience has consisted of signing in, looking at the “Interactions” page that shows x-number of new people are following me, and quietly rocking back and forth in a corner while muttering, “Who are you people…who ARE YOU PEOPLE?!”

Come to think of it, maybe Twitter isn’t for me. It exacerbates the paranoia.

Internally Inspirational

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

40. Where to find inspiration

Ah, inspiration…that elusive elixir of writer-juice. Did I seriously just say “writer-juice”? That is a lack of inspiration right there, if ever there was one.

If there’s one thing that’s as hard to get a grasp on as motivation, it’s inspiration. How many times has a writer sat down in front of a blank piece of paper or an unsullied word processor file and just stared, dumbstruck, unable to produce words? I’d be willing to stake my reputation (such as it is) that for every word that made it on to the page, a hundred went unwritten simply because the writer couldn’t grasp the inspiration required to create.

There’s an old adage that one should “write what you know”. On one hand, I disagree with this concept. If we all only wrote what we “know”, the world of literature would be a pretty boring place, since everything would have to be based on facts and the physical reality of this world. We would never have books about magic and dragons, alien worlds and alternate realities, creatures of the night and immortal gods of the universe. If we write only what we “know” we find ourselves trapped in reality, and while that is fine for some books, it cuts our possibilities by a vast, positively immense number.

On the other hand, writing what we “know” can be excellent inspiration. Look at the world around you. Some of the people we see every day can make excellent characters for our books if we just tweak them a little bit. Look at their habits and mannerisms, their quirks and unique personalities. Some of my favorite characters are based on people I know in real life, and many popular, successful authors have admitted to doing the same.

Similarly, sometimes we only have to look as far as our own pasts to find nuggets of inspiration for our stories. Two years ago for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a supernatural romance (don’t judge me) and was having a difficult time with the setting. I already had an idea of who my characters were going to be and I knew I wanted them to get trapped together, but I was having a hard time with how they would meet and why they would get trapped there. I wanted my idea to be at least marginally original, since much of my story was likely to follow along the lines of the ever-expending world of soft-core vampire porn (what did I say about judging me?!). I thought about it for a while before I came up with a great idea. My female character would work in a paper mill. It was a great idea for several reasons. One: I worked in a paper mill, so I could describe it realistically. Two: I know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, so I could express my character realistically. Three: it gave a believable explanation  for my characters to be trapped there together…see, my male character was a werewolf being hunted by other werewolves, and since a paper mill is rife with the smells of steam, pulp, and chemicals, it’s reasonable to believe that the other werewolves wouldn’t be able to track his scent from there.

Of course, inspiration can come from many other sources: dreams, other forms of media (remember, nothing is truly original anymore), world experience such as traveling, and not to mention good old fashioned research. Inspiration can really be found anywhere if you’re just willing to look for it. But I do truly believe that most of the time all we have to do is look at ourselves, our own lives and experiences, the people and places we’ve known or seen, the things that interest and amuse us. Sit back and think for a minute, and then…write.

“Don’t quit your day job.”

People who find themselves following the arts (writing, music, acting, art, etc.) regularly find themselves at the end of the snide comment, “Don’t quit your day job.” Sometimes the comment is said as an insult, with the commenter implying that we’re no good at the art form we’ve chosen, so we’d better keep flinging burgers (or whatever we do). Other times, the comment is meant as a warning, as in, “It’s very hard to become an actor, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

All “artists” should have something to fall back on in case they fail. Some are even able to establish a whole career in something less important to them first. But sometimes the universe is just out to get you.

Without going too deep into details, I’ve been out of my “day job” now since October. My husband, who worked at the same company as me, has also been out of work. It’s a pretty stressful time for us, especially as recent events have made us fairly confident that we will not be getting rehired.

The thing is, on the one hand this is an excellent time to work on my “art”, to try to finish my book, edit it, publish it. On the other hand, how can you concentrate on “art” during such a time in your life? How can you put all your time and effort into something that, statistically speaking, will never make you enough money to live on? Face it, chances are that I’ll never become a well-selling author. It’s not lack of confidence, it’s just stats. There are thousands of people like me out there, maybe hundreds of thousands, and we can’t all become famous authors. What are the chances that I’ll be the one to become wildly popular, right at the time in my life when I desperately need it to happen?

I guess what I’m trying to get at is…I only wrote about 1500 words in the entire last week. I still want to do the challenge, I really do. But it’s ridiculously difficult to have confidence in myself right now when the smart thing to do would be to do whatever it takes to get a new “day job”.

Sometimes being “artistic” really blows.