Writing Life

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I began writing at age 12. I remember reading a dreadful science fiction novel that I’d checked out of the library. It was a ‘children’s sci-fi’ book that talked down to kids and acted as if we were morons. I chucked it across the basement playroom where it hit the wood paneling with a resounding thud.

“I can write better than that!” I shouted into the empty basement.

And suddenly, I realized – I can.

I took out my sister’s green pen, a marble-topped notebook like the kind I used in school, and began writing. But that wasn’t fast enough. I had a story to tell. I needed a better way. So I dragged out a rickety card table from the hall closet upstairs and my mother’s portable Royal typewriter. I walked the half mile to Grand Value, the five and dime story on Covert Avenue, and used my precious $3 a week allowance to buy a $2 ream of typing paper.

I sat down and began to type.

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My first novel was called “Caroline” and was about a princess who lived in a castle and was in love with the villain. It was dreadful, filled with typos, and 200 pages long. I gave it to a few friends to read.

My second novel was called “A Child of Wind and Sea.” I had been reading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonquest series and was in love with the thought of riding a dragon through the skies. My heroine rode a dragon named Yahavana and went on a quest to save the love of her life. It was actually fairly well written and was entered into a young author storytelling contest through my eighth grade English class.  The teacher said that the judges were impressed by it.

Then, in my freshman year of high school, everything changes. My English teacher, Dr. Patricia Gross, gave us an assignment to write a short story for a science fiction competition. I did not want to write it, and she had to lower the boom on me to get me to finish the story. That story, “Runaway Boys”, won the Brockport Science Fiction and Fantasy competition. There were 70 entries. I was fourteen years old. I was invited to attend a summer workshop taught by Nancy Kress and Stephen Donaldson. My sister came with me to chaperone the experience. It was an amazing experience and fueled my desire to one day become a professional writer.

Life, however, intruded. I won’t go into details, but I will say that over time, I ended up feeling as if I’d never achieve my dreams. Even after becoming a professional copywriter – a writer focused on business, marketing, and professional writing for corporate and agency clients – I still thought my fiction writing wasn’t good enough. I listened to professors in graduate school who called my writing “old-fashioned” and “sickly sweet” and who wondered why I didn’t write about gritty, realistic topics filled with sex and violence. I listened to the editors who said my work was never quite what they were looking for – and I gave up.

Until the internet happened.

Suddenly, I realized that I could publish ANYthing I wanted. Anything. Anything at all. I could write a poem and chuck it up on my blog and it was there for people to read. Amazon, Lulu, and the self-publishing revolution meant that the stigma of ‘vanity presses’ was gone. I didn’t need the blessing of an editor to get my book published or the approval of a committee. All I needed was ME.

If I could step into Dr. Who’s TARDIS and visit that angry 12 year old who picked up a green pen and a marble notebook to write her first words, I would tell her to keep writing. I would tell her to trust her instincts about what makes a good story. I would tell her to avoid writer’s workshops at all cost and especially degree programs in which a bunch of wanna be writers rip your story to shreds without telling you how to fix it.

I would tell her to read, read everything in sight but especially the classics – Dickens, master of characterization, Hemingway, master of precision prose, and the modern novelists in the genre I love: Rickman, Koontz, Barclay, others.

I would tell her that she doesn’t need fame and fortune, she needs to write, because to write is to create, and she is made to create.

And I would tell her that Mrs. Meinster’s 10th grade typing class, which taught her how to touch type and avoid the hunt-and-peck method, was the best elective high school course she’d ever take.