Somewhere around the age of 9 or 10, I had the realization that people got paid to write the books that I loved. As a job, it seemed too good to be true. Coming up with stories and spending time immersed in fictional worlds seemed like a dream job, and that’s what I decided I wanted to do when I grew up. I found a notebook and wrote on the cover “Around the Neighborhood.” I drew some basic houses on the cover and a few stick figures walking around. My substandard artwork didn’t bother me because I was aiming to be an artist with words, not paint pens. I grabbed my favorite purple ballpoint pen and went and sat in the backyard waiting for a story to come to me through an overheard conversation from an adjoining yard or maybe even a helicopter flying low overhead if I was lucky. I remember writing something like this in my notebook that day:
Everything appears to be normal and calm in the neighborhood today. Perhaps a story will show up tomorrow.
My first foray into finding stories in my world did not yield the great American novel. I’m still working on that. After graduating from college, I quickly realized that no one was going to hire me to write novels for an hourly wage. After a couple jobs and grad school for an MA in women’s studies, I ended up embarking on a career in human resources–that’s quite a leap from the girl who was thrilled at the idea that people could get paid to write. Sure I did some writing in my HR job by drafting policies and managing the employee newsletter, but that hardly fulfilled the creative side of someone like me whose list of close friends includes some fictional people.
Back in about 2008 I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had not read anything by King before because I had thought I would not care for his brand of horror. I was wrong about that. On Writing was my gateway to King’s novels, and I have since read quite a few of his books, including a journey through his Dark Tower series in both the written and audio formats. At the point I read King’s book, I was doing very little writing beyond what was required in the course of my job. I could not remember the last time I had written something creative. King has a simple piece of advice that was a wake-up call for me:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut (139).
I was fulfilling the reading part, but I was not writing a lot. In fact, unless you count a meal break or timekeeping policy, I was not writing at all. It is hard to call yourself a writer when you don’t write. I knew I needed to change that, even if it meant plugging away at a story a few pages at a time on weekends. I also decided I needed to tackle something big: a novel that I wrote over the course of many weekends. I ended up with a complete first draft of a novel that involved two main characters who travel through time. It needs a lot of work, and there are huge continuity problems, but I am proud of it. I don’t know that I will ever go back and make it publication ready, but it has given me the confidence to realize that writing a whole novel is something I can do.
I recently got back to a novel I had started about two years ago. It’s only about 50 pages at this point. With this story, I took King’s advice once again:
Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex , and work (157).
King also stresses the importance of situation in a story. The idea for my current novel was a mix of a dream I had and some ideas I had been mulling over on my walk from the car to my office one morning when I was still living in Santa Cruz. I came up with a situation and started developing characters based on this question: what would my friend and I do if we were stuck in this situation that I had dreamed up? From there, my novel was born. Unfortunately, with the time it takes to build my business, it is still a struggle to find the time to work on my fiction.
One of the challenges for many fiction writers is that, unless you are established enough to warrant an advance, you do not get paid for all your hours of work on a novel until a publisher decides they want to publish your book. Even with self-publishing, a novelist won’t start making money until people buy the finished product. This means that writing gets pushed to the bottom of the list after all the things that can put money in the bank right away.
But in the last few weeks, the writer part of me has been putting up a fight. When the writer in your brain makes a lot of noise, it is funny how you can find time to write. It means sitting at my computer to write when I am inclined to stare at the TV or click through cute animal pictures on my phone. It also means taking the risk to send what I write out into the world.
I am writing this post as a reminder that this is a commitment that both you and I need to make to whatever form our creative expression takes. Reach down deep in your memories and remember who you were and who you wanted to be. If there has always been a piece of you that wanted to be a writer or artist, embrace that. It’s not even necessary to quit your day job to make the commitment. Even if you only have time to write only a page a day, you will have 365 pages by the end of the year–enough to have a whole novel.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books, 2002. Print.