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.”

Rules are Meant to be Broken…Right?

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

65. One writing rule you break.

Yes, I am aware that I am past #65 now. I wrote this one in my notebook and forgot to post it. I am not numerically dyslexic. Moving on.

Only one? I really can’t restrict myself to only one broken rule. I’ve already mentioned a dozen or more times that I don’t plan, don’t properly establish my characters and settings ahead of time, and don’t even attempt to pull the plot points together because I usually end up changing them a hundred times. I tend to use too many adjectives, not to mention too many commas and ellipses, and I have, on occasion, been bad for using cliches in my writing. I also have no bloody clue when it comes to proper revision. Hell, I’ve been revising/editing my zombie apocalypse novel for almost two years now…and hey, there’s another broken rule: I hear you’re not supposed to revise and edit at the same time. Who knew?

But if there’s one rule that I break more than all the others combined, it would be the one about having the willpower and dedication to actually sit down and write. Make no mistake, I write a helluva lot more than some people who claim to be writers, but I don’t write nearly enough for someone who claims to wait to be a professional writer.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Some quick calculations based on my approximate writing speed therefore tell me that I have to write approximately 7,500,000 words before I might be considered an expert. Now if you subtract words that I’ve written for this blog (approximately 52,000), words I’ve written during NaNoWriMo’s (approximately 240,000) and words I’ve written for various other projects since I first started writing creatively (I’m willing to bet 1,000,000 is a fair estimation for over the past sixteen years or so), that means I still have about 6,208,000 words to go. If I had been more diligent over the years that number would probably be a lot lower. If I had even written 100,000 a year (the equivalent of two NaNoWriMo’s) just since college I would be down to about 5,000,000. The point is, plain and simple, I don’t write enough for someone who wants to be a published author.

I’m trying to fix that via Wildly Improbable Goal #3 (which, in case you forgot, was to write a million words this year). Even if I achieve my goal it will only bring me 16% closer to that “magic number”, but 16% is better than my previous averages, which have been somewhere in the range of 0.96%.

Hobbyist

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

41. How a hobby has made you a better writer

I gave myself a night to think about this one, and when I woke up in the morning I had realized the truth: pretty much all of my hobbies have made me a better writer. No, I’m not joking or exaggerating. Seriously, almost all of my hobbies lend themselves to writing in one way or another.

Hobby #1: Reading
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. I love to read, and what better way to learn about pacing, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, setting, etc.

Hobby #2: Video Games
It sounds unlikely, and parents and teachers would probably baulk at the idea that playing video games can be excellent for improving one of the finer arts, but those parents and teachers would be closed-minded. Video games – even the older, significantly less advanced ones – can have rich worlds filled with action, adventure, romance, horror, mystery…you name it! Video games are excellent inspiration for ideas. They’ve even helped me practice my writing via fanfiction (I’ve written several chapters of a Final Fantasy 3/6 fanfiction and also started a Chrono Trigger one as well).

Hobby #3: Movies
This one is more my husband’s hobby than mine, but I guess it’s mine by proxy since I do, in fact, enjoy the movies. This falls under the same category as video games; movies are excellent for inspiration, and if it was a particularly good movie, the kind that gives you shivers and has you thinking about the plot line for days later, it can even be just plain motivational. In other words, experiencing such an amazing story makes you want to write one of your own.

Hobby #4: Writing
Seriously, you didn’t see this one coming? Writing has been one of my most predominant hobbies since I was in grade school. From little one-page scenes my best friend and I would write back and forth to one another during class, to a very powerful fanfiction obsession in college, to the manuscript I’m still working on editing, I’ve been writing for fun for the past 20 years or so. And isn’t that the most important part of being a writer? Actually putting in the effort to write? Or is this just my clever way of saying that I’ve already run out of hobbies to list? That’s up for you to decide.