I don’t remember when I started wanting to become a writer (of fiction). I do remember when I learned to read. I was in first grade and my teacher was having each person read a bit from our textbooks. I remember finishing my section, looking up, and realizing that I had read it. With no help. All by myself. A rush of joy went through me and I thought, “I can read!” It was one of the few times of pure realization and happiness I can remember.
Somewhere between then and third grade I decided that becoming a writer was the coolest thing ever. In third grade my teacher set up these stations for independent work. My favorite station was story writing. All of my stories began with “once upon a time” and were about a “young girl” who overcame various challenges with courage and aplomb. Obviously all of my stories were fantasies about what I wanted my life to become, but I loved it nonetheless.
In fourth grade I entered our school system’s “Young Author” contest. I made it to the top three authors in my school and my story was submitted to the state contest. Another student in my school won, but I held the realization that I came close (I was in the top ten statewide) close to my heart.
Between fourth grade and high school, I played around with fiction, never really doing much but keeping my dream close. I never told anyone other than my best friend of my dream. Of course, at that time we alternating between being actresses, dancers, singers, and various other professions so I don’t think she ever took my ambition seriously. I was afraid to tell anyone else for fear that I would be mocked the same way I was when I said I wanted to be President of the United States (“you can’t do that! Only boys can be President”).
Then in high school, I did something quite stupid. I wrote a scene depicting me in the middle of a food binge then gave it to a friend for criticism. She tore it apart, pointing out everything from spelling mistakes to logic errors. Ultimately she said “it doesn’t seem real.” But it had been real, it had been me. My dream shriveled up and hid deep inside me, light deprived for years.
In my twenties and early thirties, I would occasionally drag out this dream of writing fiction, shake it out, and let it
soak up the sun for a bit. I’d take a workshop here, a class there. I read writing magazines and books. Open a word processing program or pull out a notebook and stare at the black screen/page. But I was always paralyzed by the fear that I’d not be able to do it right. That whatever I wrote wouldn’t “seem real.” So I’d back away, tuck my dream away, and try to content myself with my life.
Then, in my early thirties, I took a fiction writing class that gave me hope. It was taught by a man who had actually been published (not a best-seller or anything, but a book that a real publisher had bought). I had to take an upper level writing class to get my Associates degree, and this was the only class that appealed to me. So I tried, fighting my fear every step of the way. I forced myself to write at a higher level then I’d ever written before. And I succeeded. In one of my final evaluations my teacher said that I wrote better than he did. Better than a published author! I held that evaluation in my heart for years before I wrote another word.
Flash forward to 2010, many things had changed in my life. I’d survived years of suicidal depression, buried my mother and beloved grandmother, and finally decided that I could no longer put off my lifelong goal of getting my bachelor’s degree. My first semester back at a four-year university I decided to take a fiction writing class and be open to whatever came my way. The class was a revelation. I adored it. I loved the writing exercises, the students, even the deadlines. And, most importantly, I felt joy. Despite the hardships of my life at the time (financial difficulties, physical illnesses, etc), I was filled with hope. I was working toward one goal (bachelor’s degree) and doing something I loved (writing). I even got a short story published in my college literary magazine.
Since then I’ve taken another fiction class, where I also did well. I even considered attempting to get a Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing, but then I got sick (hospitalized for suicidal ideation). My dream still lives within me, nurtured by the realization that my university teachers believed I could be published and/or get into a Masters program. My dream has lost most of its wrinkles and gets regular doses of sunlight.
But I don’t do as much to nurture it as I could. The fear of success and the fear of failure sometimes paralyze me. I try to remember that I’m allowed to write a “shitty first draft” (to quote Anne Lamott). I try to remember that I don’t have to be perfect, but I’m not always successful.
Regardless of my fears though, I plan to continue to work my way into being published. After all, I don’t want to write the “Great American Novel.” That novel has already been written, multiple times (see Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, Toni Morrison, etc). I just want to write a novel that a hardworking person can get lost in for a few hours. A novel that lets a reader forget for a time their own troubles. I want to give a reader the same experience I get when I read.
And I will do it. I must. Writing is my passion and I can no longer ignore it.
Blessings to you all.