Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery While Under the Influence Of This Writing Career

I have this malady I fear is terminal, a creeping fungus that refuses to recede. I am a writer you see, and despite all my best efforts, I can deny this disease no longer. I mean no one in their right mind would want to be a writer unless they had to, right? And yet I have to.

I imagine many people with a creative impulse know what I’m talking about. You develop a passion for something and suddenly it’s like that box of Mallomars you swore you weren’t going to finish, but it’s marshmallow and cookies and chocolate, and you just can’t help yourself, dammit. So yeah, writing, it’s like that. I spent most of Sunday writing and it was the first time in a few days that I finally felt like I was in my own skin. That’s what happens with those sneaky damn passions. Once they’ve taken root, ya just can’t shake ‘em loose.

As you know, because I’ve talked about it before, I get to meet so many great people on twitter. One of them is writer Lisa Killian who has a blog called What Not To Do As A Writer. I just adore Lisa. She’s smart, she’s funny and I’m hoping some of her young, shiny, writer-ly enthusiasm will rub off on this tired old crone. (To be perfectly clear, I am remarkably attractive for a tired old crone.) But I digress. Lisa had a great post about this writing plague. In it she wrote a timeline of the moments in her life that propelled her into becoming a writer.

Here now, my own history of pivotal moments.

First grade, a creeping need to express myself in words starts to form. Behold, a fine third person tour de force complete with visual aide.

Are we surprised I already had that slightly morbid sensibility about my fiction?

Third grade, my mother reads Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to me at night before bed and I begin to fall down the writing rabbit hole. (For more on the powerful effect of books in my youth, read this.)

Junior High, High school, College – Theater, plays, musicals, afternoons, evenings, weekends, summertime. I sing, I dance, I work backstage. They’re crazy, but gosh I like being around all these creative people…

And it gets so much worse from here.

Age 15, honors English, Mrs. Leerburger, a teacher with a sense of humor drier than most martinis. I hand in an essay, subject unknown, and get a dreaded “Please see me during my office hours,” scrawled across the top. That afternoon as visions of lousy grade point averages danced in my head she says to me, “Ms. David, someday you are going to be a very good writer. You’re not there yet. You need to live a little first, but someday.”

Someday? How could I resist such a challenge? You brilliant yet wicked woman you.

Junior year of college, I make the insane decision to transfer schools. Before I leave I say goodbye to a professor I really like.  He expresses great remorse that I’m leaving because he wants to have the paper I’ve written published in a professional journal. A writing dream deferred. And no, I don’t have a copy of the paper. What can I tell you? It was long ago when people still used quill pens and parchment.

After college I have my first experience with writing workshops. I discover the same rush I used to get from performing on stage is just as intense if not more so when I write things down. It becomes clear to me I need to write a lot of things down.

Fast forward a few years. A copywriter I completely respect reads my writing. He tells me so many people write things that are just pedestrian, but I’m really talented. He talks to me about my writing, and for the first time I feel like a writer.

Fast forward another few years. I’m on the phone with my writing teacher/mentor bemoaning my career in advertising and how it is eating me alive. I talk to him about how much I want to write. He tells me, “Heidi, you take so many risks in your fiction, I have to believe that someday you’ll find a way to take risks in your life and pursue your writing career.”

Damn all these people and their inspiring phrases.

And all the while I write a lot of things down, stories I don’t submit, a novel that doesn’t work, some appalling poetry, free-writes with lots of potential. Then one day a tale about a girl in a freak show who swallows down thorn covered branches begins to burn a hole in my head. I write my second novel, only this one has the potential to work. So I rewrite it another six or seven times until I think it’s finally cooked.

But wait, I haven’t told you the worst part.

May 2010, I receive the following email:

Dear Heidi,

I just finished reading your manuscript, and am absolutely in love with it.  You’ve written a truly beautiful story, full of gritty details and haunting characters–and at the same time it’s such a fun read!

I’d love to talk with you about the possibility of representing THE FLYING JEWEL.

Do you see what I’m up against? Do you? I was a goner from the start. Now someone fetch me a box of Mallomars and leave it by the door. But please, don’t interrupt me while I’m writing.

So all of you out there with a passion, maybe it’s gardening, or music, or ping-pong, or painting, or my own personal affliction, writing, what are the pivotal moments in your life that made your descent into madness inevitable? Leave me a message here and let me know. Or post your timeline on your blog and leave me a link so we can all raise a glass to the agony and the ecstasy together.

About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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26 Responses to Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery While Under the Influence Of This Writing Career

  1. julie says:

    Oh the agony. The ecstasy. The Mallomars.

    As unsurprised as I was to see you buried the unfix-able car in first grade, I was equally unsurprised to see the comparisons between our writing journeys (I HATE that word, by the way. So overused by dramatic Reality Show Contestants).

    I have the baby book (my own) in which I desperately scribbled at the age of two convinced I was “writing” before anyone had taught me to hold a pencil. My chubby fingers grasped crayons in an awkward manner I still use to write today. People stare when I sign credit card slips. Seriously.

    When I was 15, my English teacher pulled me aside and said something along the lines of “If you can write like this now dot dot dot” and then FORCED me into his Honors class even though I’d decided I hated school and didn’t want to try that hard.

    So I became an English teacher – kind of as an homage to the only guy who saw my potential back then (besides my parents. they thought i rocked). Instead of writing my own stuff, I was obsessed with teaching others how to write better, but all that reading and editing and grammar-learning helped.

    When I was 30 I wrote 200 pages of a book (and some appalling poetry – ha!) but I had two little kids and husband and a job so it was too much. So I quit (cue the boos).

    A decade later, I had the audacity to take a leave from my job, write a book and submit it to Stephany Evans who requested the manuscript. She said, “I like your writing, but dot dot dot”

    So I wrote another book which she gave to Heather (YOUR AGENT – CRAZY SMALL WORLD). I then received a “representation email” similar to yours except it had my novel’s name in there.

    Of course, my story isn’t over. The book I wrote is possibly too sweet and straightforward for the dark/edgy/angsty YA market right now. So while I wait and hope for a shift in the pendulum-swing, I am writing a third book.


    I couldn’t work on my current novel for 11 days while my kids were home for spring break and we were on vacation and had visitors etc. Yesterday was my first day back.

    It felt good to be in my skin again. I get you. Hard.

    (p.s. I know you said to do this at my own blog. sorry. got carried away. forgive me my sister in this writing (cough) journey.)

    • Oh this is *fantastic*! Thanks so much for leaving it here. I hope other people will do the same. I love your road to madness and its similarities to mine. Now the reason I did not major in English or in any way embark on a teaching/writing career is a whole nother story, that may possibly be a post in the not to distant future.

      I had endless amounts of stopping and starting, and Mallomars of course. I’m so glad to have found a kindred writing spirit in you my friend. 🙂

      Neither of our stories are over my dear. We’re just waiting for the universe to show us what comes next. xo

    • Laura says:

      Hey, don’t worry about your book! Not everyone who reads YA is edgy, dark, or angsty and wants to read edgy, dark, or angsty books…Your book could usher in a new trend, for all you know! 🙂

  2. Lisa Kilian says:

    Awesome! This is so wonderful! Your timeline is perfect! And that first story, the one about the car? What a whopper. Seriously, it’s like the best thing ever. If my kid created that I could probably die happily with pride. 🙂

    And thank you for the nice words. As always, you’re a lady after me own heart.

    • You are very welcome. Meant every word.

      Why I decided the car needed a jeweler and a carpenter and a proper burial we may never know.

      Thanks for inspiring me to write this. It made me a little nervous honestly. Like I’m blowing my own horn or something (no car puns intended). But I’m so glad I did. Good for both looking back and moving forward. 🙂

  3. Nobody says:

    i don’t know anything about being a writer, but i DO know a thing or two about junk food, and this post has me wondering…. WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF A MALLOWMAR BEFORE??? they sound so tasty with the eternally tasty combination of chocolate, cookie, AND marshmallow? i gotta get me some o’ those….

    • Run do not walk to your nearest grocery. Hurry before it’s the summer. They don’t make them in the summer cause they get all melty. (Yes, I know far too much about this cookie.) But be warned, they are seriously addictive. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Peter Wilkin says:

    I never wanted to be a writer ~ I just felt sexually attracted to my English teachers. First there was Miss Madisson at junior school. I adored her slim wrists & desperately wanted to marry her. Then came Miss Hutchinson at grammar school. She always wore loose tops & I would find any excuse to approach her at her desk so I could gaze down onto those milky white breasts that peeped up at me in such a tantalising manner. Then there was my Oedipal struggle with Mr Sandford, with whom I played out all the unresolved issues that I’d never managed to work through with my father. Finally, there was Mrs Walker, who ridiculed me in front of the whole class for addressing her as ‘mum’, a Freudian slip that caused me great shame & embarrassment.

    So … eventually, I ended up in therapy & enjoyed it so much I figured I’d like a shot at it from behind the couch instead of lying on top of it. The rest, of course, is history. But writing? Me? Hm! You’re making me think now ~ could I?

    Well, not half as well as you, Heidi ~ thank you for yet another wonderfully entertaining post. You are truly destined to achieve the greatest things.

    Oh! The car picture … you ever thought of doing illustrations?

    • Oh Peter that was scandalously entertaining, truly. I have my paintings up on the wall but never did know what the hell I was doing. Before that I used to sculpt, did I ever tell you that? Anyway, yes, my fine illustrations, perhaps I will post a few more from 2nd grade. 😉 Glad you enjoyed the post. I am quite sure there are a few pivotal moments you are leaving out from your own history my friend. I will root them out of you some day. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Laura says:

    I know what it’s like to feel really passionate about something. Most of my writing is done between the hours of 11pm and 3am, when the “normal” day of stuff is finished and I can get down to doing what I actually like. Last midnight I finished a notebook and, in my quest for more paper, cannibalized an old notebook from my high school Spanish class. I ripped out and recycled the Spanish-related material, reinforced the binding with glue and cardboard, and kept writing.

    I read 2 posts about this writer’s affliction–one called “Writing is like Sex” and another called “How to Tell When You’re Having a Novel” which compared it to pregnancy. Your disease analogy works just as well…My writing “career,” such as it is, is helped by the fact that I am an insomniac. 🙂

    • Laura, I love that image of cannibalizing your notebook for more writing space. That’s what the backs of envelopes are for I always say. I too have the night owl affliction. I’m glad you liked the analogy. It was one of the easiest posts I’ve ever written. Was clear from the start what I was trying to communicate. We writers are all doomed in the most delightful of ways. 😉

      • Laura says:

        Teehee, I always recycle my notebooks. I have also kept all my old English binders, papers, etc. from 8th grade onwards. And I have a rule that my English binders must be black. 🙂 Not OCD, just obsessed…

  6. Kate says:

    Yep, I’d say you were predestined to be a writer. This is nothing that a carpenter can fix. Probably not a jeweler, either. Though I must say: I’m impressed that you thought of a jeweler. This shows a woman who knows her priorities from a tender age.

    My timeline goes something along the lines of Get Excited! Get Lazy! Get Excited! Get Lazy and Take on Humdrum Writing Work! Get Excited! Get Lazy and Then Have a Kid and Screw Up the Plan! So I like yours better.

    (Look at me! I am not above using my own child as an excuse for my slothfulness. BE PROUD TO KNOW ME.)

    • I am proud to know you actually. You have a particular type of dry comic timing to your writing that I think is brilliant. You ain’t no slouch in the sentence-making department lady is what I’m sayin’.

      Where the hell did I come up with a jeweler and a carpenter. One must assume my mother was having a busy week of errands and I absorbed her activities transforming them into “art” ahem. Thank you for visiting Auntie Kate.

  7. Ilana says:

    It is so amazing the similarities we find with the people we like TO READ, isn’t it?

    First of all, I found a book of poems that my second grade class wrote buried in a box in the attic at my mom’s house a few years ago. Most of them were cute little poems about families of animals. I guess that was the assignment. Mine was about a family of dolphins. A mother dolphin and two baby girl dolphins who all swam nicely together. Then one day the daddy came home. He was a shark and he ate them.

    YEAH. My heart just about broke for my second grade self. And I can only imagine what my father thought when he read it.

    Otherwise, my story of creativity delves into writing, acting, singing, art— I am a true jack of all trades, master of none.

    I remember having a poem I wrote about clouds selected to be read on the radio and having to go into a studio to read it into a microphone when I was in first grade.

    I remember entering a competition at the library to draw their official library bookmark. I drew the clock tower in the middle of town and won.

    I remember being selected to sing a solo at the Pam Am building for a Christmas Special that was going to be broadcast into Grand Central.

    I remember acting, acting, acting, singing, singing, singing, singing, until I developed a terrible case of stage fright and eventually retreated back to writing and drawing.

    Oh god, there are way too many things to list here.

    I remember getting an A on my final english lit paper in college with a note from the teacher that said— “I know you don’t read the books, but I always look forward to your papers.”

    What was my final paper? It was a musical about how I didn’t know what to write about for my final paper. Complete with song lyrics and dialogue.

    Yes, I have always been very much the same person.

    • You are right. The whole pattern of your life really did lead up to the skills you use now. I’m impressed. It probably won’t surprise you to know I wrote a college paper about a musical. I’m tellin ya my friend, you and I have some strange shit in common. Thank you so much for leaving me this time line. I really enjoyed reading all of it. Also, you have no idea how much I wish I had been at the Pan Am building.

  8. I started by writing plays and a handwritten “newspaper” for my grade school classes, progressed to lots of bad poetry (still write it–see blog) and numerous essays that gained the attention and praise of my English teachers. Eventually I became staff writer for a regional newspaper and then a corporate communications specialist, all the time thinking, “Some day, I’ll write a novel.”

    Then one night I dreamed I turned into a werewolf and killed two men who attacked me as I left a campus building. How could anyone have that happen and not write about it? Resulting novel has been at independent publisher’s for 14 weeks now. Should I be getting impatient? : – )

    • It must be a central writer theme to have a pile of bad poetry under our belts. 🙂 I am so glad you described all this. I love that a dream inspired your novel. (You have some very interesting dreams, don’t you?) That’s great that you’ve sent it out as well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you! Did the publisher ask for exclusivity, or have you sent it to several? Unfortunately, I think 14 weeks is typical. Publishing moves like a glacier, at least that’s what I try to keep reminding myself, in between boxes of Mallomars. 😉 Thanks for stopping by Angela.

  9. Natasha says:

    Your writing is as delicious and enjoyable as Mallomars. Nicely done, Heidi.

  10. Heidi! I just found your highly entertaining blog. What took me so long? I was amused that the first post of yours I read was spurred by one of Lisa’s that I also replied to. (My old post, “Unicorns are Sneaky Bitches,” is here: I particularly love your first grade story about the car, which reminds me (in spirit) of my fifth grade story about vampirealiens. =) That’s good stuff. Anyway, I’m glad I finally found your blog – look forward to reading more!

    • Annie! I’m so glad you came by. As I said on your blog, I just loved your time line. Thanks so much for sharing the link here. You know, I even have a “biography” that a fifth grader wrote (was hittin’ the big time I tell ya) about me as his class assignment. I believe I was in third grade so naturally I had already lived my life to the fullest. Happy to talk to you here and on twitter. Thanks again for stopping by.

  11. Dawne Webber says:

    I descended into madness about the same time as you (first grade), but I accepted that madness early on. I reveled in it. Privately.

    The difficulty for me is that friends, family and total strangers are finding out about my peculiar strain of insanity. It’s one thing to write all night (I’m one of those, too) and tell people that I’m crabby and tired because I have insomnia. It’s another when they find out I’ve written a book and I’m trying to get it published. Is it my imagination or are they looking at me like I’m growing horns?

    It feels good to be here among my own kind 😉

    • Welcome to the freak show, Dawne. Stop on by for a bowl of eyeballs and a cup of electricity any ol’ time. 🙂

      Do you ever get the “Yes, but are you a *real* writer, or do you just write?” question? Or the “Are you anyone important that I should know?” question? Always a delight. lol

      • Dawne Webber says:

        Actually, when I tell people I write, they usually try to ignore it. It’s almost like I said something personal and embarrassing, like: “Sometimes I fantasize that I’m Lindsay Lohan. She’s my idol.” They don’t know how to react.

    • Laura W. says:

      The thing I worry about most is people from church reading anything I write. :/ You know, people who watch you grow up but only have a one-dimensional Sunday-dress type view of your personality…

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