Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Writing Life

In adolescence I decided the greatest accomplishment I could imagine would be to write a book. It seemed a lasting contribution to the world. I made attempts to write stories, but faltered. I remember my mother telling me I needed to live longer to have stories to tell. She, of course, was right. It wasn't until my late thirties that I apparently had lived long enough to have a story churning inside me, trying to get out. I was compelled to spend a few years writing it. It became a part of me - like a baby you carry for a long time and then watch its birth. A satisfying and joyous occasion. Writing and attempting to get it published was akin to an MFA - I learned so much. But instead of actually studying writing the way most aspiring writers do - I did what I typically do - tried to teach myself.

On some levels I was successful. I attended workshops, got professional feedback and read dozens of books about writing. I rewrote, revised, spent many months and dollars looking for an agent. Then I learned about self-publishing. Perfect. I had no aspirations to be an Oprah pick - I just wanted to see what I had created from my heart and soul in the form of a book. So I put up some funds, got my daughter to guide me through getting a manuscript and artwork on a disk, got my mom to paint the cover, and sent it off. Within a couple weeks a single book arrived for my approval and I held it to my heaving bosom crying like a baby.

Next step -marketing. And I am a complete failure. It's not within my personality parameters to go out and sell myself. Local bookstores allowed me to have book signings and book readings, but I was always glad when they were over. So who read my bundle of joy? My two book clubs, most of my cousins and friends and a few book store patrons. Yep, that's about it. Some family members may have read it but said little or nothing to me (except my loving daughter). I've read that it's typical of family to do that to writers. I will not go into my theory on that.

Now I call the box of books in my closet my learning book. I'm under the impression that the book I am writing now is a much better story and more well-written. (I could be wrong). The characters appeared to me one day completely out of some esoteric imaginary place. I couldn't ignore them. The story had no initial plan or plot but seemed to begin writing itself every time my fingers landed on the keys. I've chalked the first book up to experience and strangely, it's OK with me if no one else reads it. I'm on to bigger and better things.

It's a conundrum why writers write. I recently formulated a small but devoted writing group. Four of us support and encourage each other. We critique honestly and give guidance. We can talk for hours about writing. And we're never sure why we spend the hours we do agonizing over word choices and grammar. Why we subject ourselves to the thrill of believing our work is perfect only to have someone point out a massive flaw.

We are compelled. I can only assume it is a gift that we are created to use. Near my computer are two quotes I believe in:

If God gives you something to do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it? Stephen King

when I stand before God at the end of my life I hope I will not have a single talent left. I will say: I used everything You gave me. Erma Bombeck

That's why I'm writing another book.

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