A blog for my writerly ramblings, my rambly writings, and all things in between.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Am a Writer

I had the awesome opportunity to attend the James River Writers Conference this weekend, and to be honest, I spent much of the time there in wide-eyed awe at all the incredible writers and their remarkable intelligence and talent. I felt both way out of my league and yet right at home at the same time.

I learned that there are many just like me, still trying to make their way through this crazy writing business, and that I’m not the only one who thinks it’s HARD. But one of the most powerful things that happened today came in the final session: someone in the audience asked a question about what the authors do when they just don’t feel like writing, and one of the authors had a very blunt answer. She said, “If you don’t like to write, don’t do it.”

Now, I know what the audience member meant- even if you love writing, there will be times that it can feel like a chore. But the author went on to say that nobody cares if you write except you. Your family and friends might encourage you, might cheer you on, but if you just gave up, life would go on. They might offer a few well-meaning inquiries, but if you just said, "Nah, I just decided not to," then nobody would yell at you. They would probably just shrug and say, “Oh, okay.” She said, “You have to write because you love to write, and if you love to write then it will work.”

For some reason, I had a gut check moment. I asked myself, “Do I love to write?” I thought for a second about my other interests- crafting, singing, playing the flute, running, riding horses, etc., and in an instant I knew that as much as I love all of these things, none of them is writing. Writing is something I have dreamed of doing ever since I figured out that putting letters together can make a word, and that putting words together can make a message, and that making messages can change people’s lives.

I remember being in 4th or 5th grade and being so riveted by a Lois Lowry book, “Number the Stars,” that I decided I wanted to be just like her- I wanted to write a book that would make people feel like that book made me feel. So I tried to write a book about the Holocaust. Clearly, that didn’t exactly work out for me, but a dream was born, and I have carried it with me ever since- sometimes actively, sometimes dormantly (yes, I just made up that word), but always there.

As all of these thoughts swirled through my head, I actually felt tears prick my eyes, I was so overcome with emotion. Maybe it was just because it was the end of a long day and I was tired, I don’t know- but something clicked inside me and I thought, I am a writer. I was born to do this- I was made to write.

Yes, it’s hard. And yes, I am a mother and a homemaker and right now is not the best time in my life to be pursuing a writing career, but I cannot help it. I have to write. It’s just who I am.

I am a writer.

(If you are a new writing friend that I just met at the conference today, I am so happy you came by to visit! Please leave a comment and say hello. It was a pleasure meeting and chatting with each and every one of you!)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Because Everyone Has a Story

This week I finished a book by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called “Dispatches From the Edge.” I have watched AC for several years now, and I’ve always liked him as a reporter. He has a way of asking people the same questions I would ask them, but doing it in a gentle way, with an intensity that makes you feel like he is genuinely interested in his subject as a person. I was curious to read this book because I was interested in finding out the story behind this man who always seems to be at the center of every major world catastrophe. I was mostly interested to find out what wasn’t shown on CNN in events like the tsunami in Sri Lanka or Hurricane Katrina. I was surprised by what I found between the covers of his book:

“Working overseas, traversing front lines, I felt the air hum. Neutrons and protons collided about. I could feel them move through me. No barrier between life and death, just one small step, one foot in front of the other. I wasn’t one of those adrenaline cowboys I’d run into in some Third World cul-de-sac. I wasn’t looking to get shot at, wasn’t looking to take chances. I just didn’t let risks get in the way. There was no place I wouldn’t go.  
Coming home meant coming down. It was easier to stay up. I’d return home to piles of bills and an empty refrigerator. Buying groceries, I’d get lost- too many aisles, too many choices; cool mist blowing over fresh fruit; paper or plastic; cash back in return? I wanted emotion but couldn’t find it here, so I settled for motion. 
Out at night, weaving through traffic, looking for trouble, I’d lose myself in crowds. Gaggles of girls with fruit-colored drinks talked about face products and film production. I’d see their lips move, look at their snapshot smiles and highlighted hair. I didn’t know what to say. I’d look down at my boots and see bloodstains.  
The more I was away, the worse it got. I’d come back and couldn’t speak the language. Out there the pain was palpable; you breathed it in the air. Back here, no one talked about life and death. No one seemed to understand. I’d go to movies, see friends, but after a couple of days I’d catch myself reading plane schedules, looking for something, someplace to go: a bomb in Afghanistan, a flood in Haiti. I’d become a predator, endlessly gliding in saltwater seas, searching for the scent of blood.”

It’s powerful stuff. There was also the behind-the-scenes type stuff I was looking for, but as I read his very personal account, I was reminded of the fact that everyone has their own backstory, even those talking heads on TV. They have their own pain, their own demons, their own past that has shaped who they are, and most of the time we can pass right by people on the street and not even have an inkling.

This week I also came across this fantastic news segment about one of my favorite blogs, Humans of New York. HONY is the embodiment of the truth that everybody has a story: the homeless man whose wife and daughter were murdered while he watched, helpless to intervene, who lost his job because he had such severe PTSD; the little boy whose father is a fireman and once saved 15 people. Check it out if you have a minute.

I’ve realized that I must remember this as I write- every character in my story has their own story, from the main character’s mother to the nosy next-door neighbor to the pizza delivery guy. Their story shapes their worldview and it will determine how they will respond to any given situation. In order to give my characters depth and realism I must know who they are as people. Are they a peacemaker or do they thrive on conflict? Are they self-conscious and reserved or bold and flippant? Are they the kind of person who is the first to take action to solve a problem or do they sit back and observe before doing anything? Yet another important thing to remember is that more often than not, most people fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes- reactions depend on the specific circumstances, the emotional climate, etc.

I will keep working on my characters to make them as human and lifelike as possible- and in the meantime, I will continue getting to know the real life characters all around me. I will discover their story, find out what makes them tick, and try to better understand how our stories shape our selves.