My Writing Life
Becoming a novelist has been a lifelong journey along a circuitous path. Growing up in an academic and pragmatic family, I always associated writing with school. I was a good student and received positive feedback throughout high school, college, and graduate school for my scholastic writing. But from a young age, I was also a creative dreamer and an avid reader. English was my favorite subject and I would have loved to have studied literature and writing, but that did not fit my family mold. Instead, I went to nursing school, moved to California, got married, and had children. Life was busy, with little time for my passion for reading, let alone anything else.
It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I returned to the idea of writing. Several authors became my teachers through books; I studied Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I started doing Morning Pages as outlined by Cameron, and while I found writing both healing and enjoyable, aside from regular Morning Pages, I rarely could find the time. I was recently divorced, raising two sons, and attending graduate school in psychology.
Once both my sons were off in college I found myself alone with time and energy to write again. I started with non-fiction articles and dabbled in short stories and essays. In November of 2007, I attended a writing conference at Pacifica Graduate Institute where I participated in a screenwriting workshop with Dara Marks, author of Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. I loved her application of the Hero’s Journey to the screenwriting process, and while I didn’t consider that I would ever write a screenplay, I did see how I could use it in crafting a novel. I had an idea for a story, but my self-doubt was still a strong inhibitive force.
Then a seemingly small event shifted things for me. My local newspaper had a Christmas story completion contest. I read the prompt and an idea came to me immediately; I wrote it up and emailed it in a matter of hours. I remember feeling so engaged as I wrote it, as if the story was flowing through me and I was simply the scribe. When I won second place, a small chink was made in my protective self-doubt.
I talked to a friend who was working on a novel and suggested meeting weekly to support each other. I began writing the story as prose but still felt blocked until I started seeing scenes of a movie in my mind. I returned to Dara’s book, bought some screenwriting software, and began writing. I later read David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible to learn more about screenwriting.
I found that I loved the process. I had the same exhilarating experience of being in a creative flow that I’d had while writing the Christmas story. I liked the structure of screenwriting and enjoyed finding the right voice for different characters. I became frustrated at times, primarily with the need to return to my day job every Monday! I longed for more uninterrupted writing time. And the self-doubt was still a near constant companion.
But I persevered, carving out blocks of time to write on weekends, holidays, and vacations. After about a year, I completed the script which then sat on the shelf for several years before I re-wrote it as a novel. That debut is now in production with a publication date of August 28, 2018. My second novel is in draft and I have started the re-write.
My experience of writing is unlike any other; I completely lose time. While I certainly have moments of angst, frustration, and self-doubt, when I am in the flow of writing nothing is more effortless or enjoyable. It is exciting to see where a character will take me, how they will respond, or what new situation will present itself. Those moments of being surprised always leave me feeling awed by the process and encouraged to just get out of the way and let the story come through.