This post was originally going to focus on Jazz Fiction but in reflecting on my new found love of this genre, I began considering my personal journey as a writer. From the beginnings, putting crayon to a blank sheet of paper then pencil and pen to lined paper. My handwriting turns into a blur of letters strung together when writing in pen so I am now writing in pencil but when did I realize that I was a writer versus when I wanted to be a writer? Sometimes the truth comes naturally to others, they read a book and think they can and would love to do the same, starting to learn the process.
I hated reading as a child so, needless to say, my journey did not begin with me proclaiming to my parents that I wanted to be a writer at a very young age.When I was a little, jumping my monster truck over my Barbie dolls and begging my mom to play Pretty Pretty Princess with me, I never imagined myself to WANT to be a writer. Back then, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals, still do, and wanted to specialize either in big animals (my mother’s family raised horses and cows so I was exposed to them early on) or household pets (dogs have always been a key component in my father’s life until he married my mother who is terrified of all animals except the edible kind like fish, chickens and pigs). To this day I will be the first person to play with a dog, cats are okay but anything that is unpredictable makes me nervous so not my first choice for a pet. At summer camp we had pet day and I went around to each table and played with everyone’s pet. I fed a rabbit, met a chinchilla for the first time and let a kitten sit on my shoulder and purr in my ear. So why didn’t I become a veterinarian?
Middle school. My earliest memories of science labs and homework I found to be challenging. It only got worse in high school to the point I didn’t even want to go to school on days I had physics, chemistry or biology, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Middle school, the only thing to make me forget about my Science classes was English. Anyone who asks me how I first started writing I will tell them about the assignment I received in sixth grade: writing a collection of poems.
I hated it.
When the first draft was due, my teacher told me my poems were too long. Sure they were well written but they read more like short stories rather than well crafted versus of poetry. The poems that were supposed to follow a rhyme scheme didn’t and the ones that were free verse might as well have been chapters. My topics were also less than desirable. The two that stick out most are the ones about my favorite stuffed animal and the one about my favorite color, Blue. For the first time I did not want to finish an assignment, just forget this small collection of poems and move on. The only problem was that I was an overachiever, not finishing an assignment on time was not the way I did things. Plus, my parents would have never allowed it.
So I wrote a book of poems (which I never saw again). Made a cover out of felt and cardboard and turned it in. Now, I don’t remember the title of the exact poem but one of those poems I did enjoy writing. The longest one that never made it into the collection. It was the first story I’ve ever written. It was fun, exciting and for the first time since finding out I’m terrible with anything dealing with science and math, ignited something in me. Maybe I was meant to do something else than treat animals, maybe I was meant for a more artistic career path.
Needless to say, when you tell your parents you no longer want to be a Dr. of anything, switching to a career that is uncertain and has a reputation of suicide…they are less than thrilled.
High school is where my artistic shined. I participated in theater productions, wrote more and started keeping a journal. English and History (unless the were bogged down with politics) were the two classes I excelled in. Science and math…not so much. I was excited for college, rumor was that in college you pick a major and all of your classes revolve around that major! As an English major, science and math would no longer be a part of my daily schedule during the four years it took to complete my degree. I was writing more, learning more about writing but still dreaded reading. I thought I could break the mold, prove that a writer did not have to read books, that they could learn from reading the dialogue from video games or the occasional online article. My advisor said that I should spend some time at the local community college, to get my grades up which translated to “you probably shouldn’t apply to a four year college because you won’t get in.”
This is what she wrote in a letter to my parents.
I applied to 12 schools and I got into all of them.
Then I found out I had to take math and science! But, at least I was officially an English major focus in creative writing. Undergraduate was where I played with genre. I wrote some fantasy that went over well in workshop but that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about. I took a few poetry classes and still found poetry to be a poor fit for me. I tried screenwriting and, while I enjoyed learning about the craft…screenwriting is not for me. I settled into fiction, writing away and forcing myself to read but never doing anything outside of the required reading. Looking back now, I wish that I had read more. I wish I knew then what I do now. That I would combine my love of writing with my love of history and research. Then, maybe I would have gotten accepted to my undergraduate program (I also didn’t ask any of my teachers to write me a recommendation letter, using outside sources which came with impressive job titles). A stupid mistake.
But my journey took me elsewhere, back to Pennsylvania where I started working on my MA.
Disclaimer: I admire everything teachers do and the amount of hours they dedicate to teaching students. Truthfully, I believe anyone who is a teacher has the most difficult job in the world and am disappointed that this career is often overlooked in terms of salary, hours and dedication.
I went to receive my MA as a backup. I wanted to be an editor/publicist at a publishing company, something I discovered while in undergrad. I did not, still don’t, want to be a teacher. I do not want to stand in front of a classroom and teach ENG 100 courses to students who think they already have all of English figured out. Why? You mean besides the fact that I hate being ignored? Because I do not have the courage and drive to do so. To reflect on how I acted in the classroom when I was bored, thought I knew better than the professor or found myself in a science course, I would never want to be in that same position. Now, this isn’t to say that I’m living in a world of disillusion, thinking I can get through life without ever having to teach but that’s for later. Now I’m earning my MA, hoping that I won’t ever have to be a teacher but in the back of my mind preparing for what I then considered to be the “worst” situation.
I learned the most important tips from this program in regards to my writing career. Avoid doing step by step descriptions: if your character needs to go downstairs just get them downstairs without talking about how they walk down the hall, take each step, look around to see if anyone is home. Only do this when it is important to the story, otherwise, get them downstairs. I also finished my first two short stories, one being historical fiction and the other speculative fiction. I learned how to tone down my descriptions so they wouldn’t overwhelm the page.
Even wrote the beginnings of what would become the novel I am currently working on.
Well you know from my previous blog posts what happened after (if you don’t you should read my previous blog posts). Short summary: I’m currently enrolled in Spalding University’s Low-Residency MFA program, I’m a Social Media & Marketing graduate assistant and I am currently working on a novel-in-stories for my thesis.
And I’m more open minded when it comes to teaching! I don’t think I’d be very good but I’m keeping an open mind. Watching my teachers in a low-residency setting makes me want to be a part of that community. I’m no where near ready to apply for that position but I’m open to the possibility of it happening in the future along with proofreading for Writer’s Digest critique services, being an editor/publicist at a publishing company, giving speeches and guest lectures at writers’ conferences and, of course, writing new short stories!
So that’s my writing journey. I went from wanting to be a veterinarian to passionately pursuing a career in writing whether in editing, publicity or teaching. Science is still a problem but at least I’m no longer required to take courses to satisfy my degree requirements. I wish I could go back and tell the little girl ripping branches from her grandmother’s tree, feeding the green leaves to the cows while crying about her suffering science grade that it does get better. That not being able to be a vet is not the end and that the first story she will publish uses her grandmother’s house as the setting.
She just needs to keep pushing. To keep those who doubted her out of her mind. Because, soon enough, she will be able to prove them wrong. She will get into college and earn two graduate degrees. She will write stories that involve all of her family members.
But, most importantly, she will learn to like reading. She will read because it is required of her but eventually she will read because she likes the book too. Reading and being surrounded by published authors will make her hunger grow, reignited the fire that died because of science.
I would tell her that this all does not happen immediately, that even now I am still waiting for that moment of utter joy that is so great, words no longer form. But that time is coming soon, as long as I keep pushing, writing and reading.
This post is in response to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.