Thursday, April 01, 2010

Meeting Ms. Write

These memoir classes have been an incredible bit of reflection, which, as I thought about writing this post this evening, I realized is pretty cool coming at the end of my college experience. I turned 30 this year, and I'll graduate with my Bachelor's degree in a few months. I've learned scads over the past several years, and it's been really good to reflect on all of that growth and change.

More specifically, I've been writing about my journey as a writer. I actually ended up writing an essay (more of a compilation of things I've written in the past with some new filler) for my Memoirs Across Culture class and thought I'd share it. It's long, and quotes directly from this post, but I think it's pretty good.

Write Here, Write Now

I wrote my first novel when I was ten. It was only eight pages long and very short on plot, but I was convinced it was pure literary masterpiece. In my author biography, I indicated it was the first of “many” more novels to come. But it was to be fifteen years before another of those books would materialize. As Anne says in Anne of Green Gables, “…my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone.” But by the time I was 25, I knew less of myself than I had known at ten. A series of poor choices, on my behalf and on others’, had left me feeling alone and very unsure of myself. I floundered, trying to find my identity as a woman, a mother, and a wife. Looking back I can recognize the many, many things that have brought me to a place where I am comfortable in my skin, where I have come into my own as a woman, and one large part of that process was coming into my own as a writer.

I began blogging in May 2005. I’d kept diaries sporadically as a child, but my online journal has been a constant for almost five years now. My blog is full of tales of my children, pictures of my various home projects, silly poems, ramblings, and reflection. My blog has been with me from remodeling my living room and returning to school to the death of my grandmother and my cousin’s stillborn son. And so what started as an experiment, a curiosity, became a powerful bit of self-reclamation. Blogging—and, really, let’s just call it what it is: writing—was a way of rediscovering myself. As I wrote little stories about my kids or reflected on who I was and what I wanted, I began to understand myself more. And in that process, I remembered how much I love writing.

It was through the blog world that I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a contest in which participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. As I read about the contest, my heart leapt into my throat. It was such a bizarre, crazy idea. But how incredible it would be to spend an entire month writing. Writing a story. A story of my own. Was that even possible? Could I write an entire manuscript? Wasn’t that something only real writers did? I pondered these questions off and on for months, but when the next November rolled around, I decided to take the plunge. I was petrified. What if I failed? What if I couldn’t do it? Wouldn’t that just confirm my deepest fears that writing, being a writer, was only something the educated elite could do?

But I was also wildly excited. This was my chance to do something I’d dreamed of ever since I was a child. What if I did finish? What if I was a good writer? What implications would that have for my future? And so, on November 1, 2006, armed with an idea and a writing buddy, I set out to write my second novel.

I was one of 75,000 winners to cross the NaNoWriMo finish line that fall. Because my story wasn’t finished at 50,000 words, I continued to work on it into the next spring, finally completing the first draft in March. I was immensely proud. It had been an extremely challenging time, but it was also incredibly exhilarating. But even after that—even after I typed “The End” on my first real story and received positive feedback from several outside readers—I still didn’t consider myself a true writer. I always needed a disclaimer or a qualification of some sort. I was a wannabe writer, or, at best, an amateur writer. I could say I liked to write, but I could never call myself A Writer. As Elizabeth Berg says in her book, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True,“I thought writers have to have an education abroad, and wear tweed, and be interestingly tormented. I was only boringly tormented.”

But my perspective changed during the summer of 2008 when I took a Project Applied Study Term class at UIS. I chose to add a villain to my little manuscript, and, once more, I wrote a lot of story in a small amount of time. But as part of the course, I also read some books about writing: Berg’s book and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

A friend had recommended King’s book, and I was skeptical at first about how much I’d enjoy it. I’m not generally a fan of King’s fiction, but I fell in love with this book immediately. His words were encouraging and edifying and inspiring. My family and I were visiting my mom in Michigan that summer, and as I was sitting next to the St. Clair River enjoying the blue sky, cool breeze, and the soft, green summer grass, King’s words spoke directly to me.

“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word writer on it before you can believe you are one?” he asked. “God, I hope not.”

Stephen King himself had just called me out.

It was one of the most humbling, empowering revelations I'd ever had. I was a writer. Unpublished, unpolished, unprofessional, but a writer nonetheless. And so I practiced saying it, tenuously at first, and then with more and more conviction. Working on my manuscript, I am a writer. On the plane home, I am a writer. At the grocery store, I am a writer. I had to say it several dozen times to myself before I had the guts to say it out loud. And, funny enough, it was in writing a blog post that I first declared it ‘out loud.’ Look out, world. I am a writer.

In looking through my notes from that summer to better remember the experience, I found a short story I had written. It’s very brief—only five short paragraphs—but as I read it for the first time in almost two years, I gave myself goosebumps. Oh, man. That’s what it’s about. I want to write like that. I want to write with depth and clarity and humor and gut and I want to give my readers goosebumps. When I do it to myself, that’s a bonus.

Writing fills me up and wears me out and quenches a desire in the very depths of my being and makes me ache to do it better. It's an expression of my brain and heart and soul, the very essence of who I am. It's one of the reasons I love a good story, and it's one of the reasons I've read everything I can get my hands on since I was four. Reading and imagining and writing—it's all part and parcel of who I am.

I am a writer.


Chris said...

Oh. My. You are an amazing writer! And the poignancy of your final paragraph is palpable. I give you tears in lieu of goosebumps!


Angela said...

Wonderful, Amy.

Anonymous said...

Amy Dearest, Your Mom said it more poetically than I, but yes, "Oh, my...." This blog, this word picture from my niece, THE WRITER, is rich, full, picturesque touching a very soft place in my heart. I don't see a need for a paper badge; I only see that Amy is A Writer. Blessed Be. Aunt Jo Ellen