You are a writer...

Being a writer doesn't feel like you think it will...

When I was ten years old, writing my first poetry and submitting it to contests, I'm not sure what I thought the life of a "real" writer would be like. All I knew was that I loved to write, and wanted to do a lot of it. I don't really remember a lot more of how I felt back then.

But as I got older, perhaps a starry-eyed teenager, I guess I formed a picture in my mind of what it would be like when I finally became published, became well-known, or at least, well-read by intellectual types. Maybe I would sit at a wonderful old oak roll top desk, with a little lamp on the corner sporting a cheerful green glass shade. I thought I'd be sitting at that desk all day with an old typewriter clacking out page after page of wonderful Stuff. Or I'd be sitting by a crackling fire, sipping cognac, pondering Great Thoughts.

Yeah, right!  Where did I get that idea?  From Masterpiece Theatre? 

When it came time to go to college, I decided to major in art. To this day I wish ONE person had said “You have talent. You should write.” Or maybe they did, and I didn't pay attention.  It took years of frustrations trying to sell my artwork before I started writing about it instead and stumbled onto a whole new path.

Well, you know what? I finally got published. And it was NOT the way I thought it would be. My first desk was a fold-up, rickety card table in the corner of my bedroom in a low-rent apartment. I had an electric typewriter by then, but produced a manuscript using plain white paper and a lot of White-Out.

My first advance for a 250-page book was $500. In those days, that paid about one month’s rent and a few bills. Over the next few years, the royalties weren't much more than that. But I didn't care; I was published!

My first books were resource guides that took hours and hours of research and correspondence. After twenty plus years, even that got old, and my old dream started nibbling at the corners of my mind.

You think you’ll sit down, and begin at the beginning, and write a story from beginning to end. You think that if you have your little stack of color-coded index cards, that you’ll have your plot all worked out, nice and neat. Little do you know that once you put two characters in a room alone, they’ll start a conversation and pass you by so fast your head will spin. You’ll have no control over them, what they say or do. You’ll be freaked out about this, but go with it.

You won’t have set hours to work. You’ll feel like crap all day, have a cup of tea at 5pm, then next you know it’s 4am, you’re freezing, and you have a stack of pages beside you. You have no idea what you wrote, or where it came from.

You feel Out of Control. You are a writer.

You think that you’ll “dream up” the beginning of a story, and if you keep working on it, you’ll work straight through from beginning to end. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. 

 The first inkling you have of a story might be a snippet of conversation you hear over breakfast in the neighborhood diner…”…after my first son was born, I had a flap of skin that hung down to the floor, honey…” Take that and go with it. Turn it into a character. Write about her, then see what she wants to do. Or it might be a news story you hear in passing about a mutant rodent. Go with it.

Here’s the Big Secret that it took me years to learn. You don’t always start at the first sentence. Writing is not a linear activity, it’s more of a spiral thing. It’s organic, it grows, a little this way, a little out that way. You don’t have to know the ending until you get there! You BUILD stories. Wow, what a mind-boggling idea that is!

I sure wish I’d known this before the age of 50. I think it would have helped me be a little freer with my writing and get to the authentic stuff much sooner. I would have written more without having to know the first sentence. I would have written more without knowing how it would end.

And I would have paid better attention to the folks in the back corners of old diners.

Here’s the other Big Secret…you are not in control. Not really. You are a writer.

Bobbi A. Chukran
Copyright 2010


Flafishergal said...

I just kept reading your article and thinking "exactly"! I've loved writing my whole life but hadn't managed to experience any success other than on a personal level.

Thank you so much for posting this insightful blog!

About Bobbi C. said...

Thanks so much for commenting, Flafishergal! Sometimes you never know if anything on a blog is ever read. It's nice to know it helped a bit. Writing is probably one of the hardest things to keep going on a consistent basis, and there are so many things out there to discourage us. You just gotta keep it up, day by day, little at a time.