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:
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.