Friday, April 4, 2014

Writing For Advice (StoredStory #15)

When I was a child, I often thought I would end up being a writer. As children often do, I idealized what the writing life could be, but I always was attracted to creating a story. My active imagination worked wildly. Even if I wasn't writing a traditional story on paper, I was still imagining it or making up something.

My earliest memory of having a pen in hand is making lines on blank sheets of typing paper. My dad had a manual Royal typewriter, and I borrowed his sheets to try my hand at writing. This was before I could write actual words, so I did the next best thing. Doing what I saw on cartoons, I scribbled wavy lines (I believe the Smurfs scribbled their letters). My dad wanted to teach me how to actually write real words, but I willfully refused. He was trying to help me, but I wouldn't have it.

I think refusing his instruction might have bothered my dad at the time, but I see my refusal as something good. I was happy doing what I had learned thus far. Yes, I was making nonsensical signs on a page, but at the tender age of two or three, that's all I had interest in. I was playing at being a writer. Emulation is where anything useful begins. Playing plants a seed of learning. (And, I don't mean playing in any pejorative way. I see playing as an important art that adults sadly lose).

Years later, after I had learned to write real words and form sentences, I wrote stories sporadically, and then in fifth grade I wrote my first poem, a dreadful first attempt. Still, my parents were always celebratory over my creative endeavors.

At  ten to twelve years of age, I was curious how one actually went about the writing process. What do authors do to write novels? How do they plan out the plot? How are characters developed?

Around that time, I somehow had gotten a copy of Danielle Steel's No Greater Love. While she might be dismissed by some as a genre writer, she has a professional career as a paid writer. Of course, as a pre-adolescent, I was not aware of the literary versus genre fiction distinction that is often made. (I have my thoughts about this and might share them elsewhere, but I generally think that the distinction leads to a dangerously dismissive attitude).

In any case, I loved the novel as it was a historical romance that begins on the Titanic. After reading it, I decided to write Ms. Steel a letter of praise. Yet, I loaded the letter with many questions about the writing process. There was an address in one of the last pages before the back cover.

Weeks went by. I probably forgot about the letter, but isn't the season of forgetting the best time for things to appear? One day, after getting home for school, I had a letter from Danielle Steel. She had typed the letter (she uses manual typewriters to this day, I think) thanking me for my "kind words for No Greater Love." She then went on to answer my questions about the writing process. She said she usually does take notes as she is thinking of plot and does plan out her novels. But, perhaps the most useful piece of advice she gave was this: that a writer needs to get in the habit of writing every day, "even if you end up throwing out most of what you write."

Her letter is stored away in some of my old writing folders. I run across it occasionally, and I re-read it every time. I smile and am grateful for this letter.

I still play at writing. For years, I dismissed myself as a creative writer. Some alien value system took over my brain for a while, for I quit thinking that I could ever write fiction. During my twenties, I occasionally wrote fiction or poems, but that dismissive voice persisted.

Now that I'm in my thirties, I have slowly picked fiction writing back up, and it is enjoyable, freeing, and seems right. Yet, it is difficult, scary, and quite ego-smashing. I am glad that I scribbled as a child, had supportive parents, and got that letter from Ms. Steel. These early memories helped me take my creative impulse more seriously today. Even if I never have any success at publishing, I feel that I need to give room to writing.

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