Today I’m writing abut my own writing journey! I knew I wanted to write stories at the age of 7. My first story idea was the character of “Super Braids”, a piece of wish-fulfillment if there ever was one – I had very long hair that I usually wore in two braids. Super Braids would be a girl with super powers and long hair. Sadly, she never got past the idea stage and a single drawing.
For a few years after that, my writing endeavors took second place to more important activities, like making mudpies and playing in the sprinkler to ward off the scorching Texas heat. During my preteen years, I wrote a chapter book about crickets. It was loosely inspired by the plague of crickets that afflicted the downtown area of the city I lived in. I look back on it with affection because it was the first long story I actually completed.
After that, a series of short stories flooded with varying levels of sentimentality appeared. Luckily for you and me, they have since disappeared into the garbage. I did learn from them, though, so I guess they weren’t a complete waste of time!
Teen Years... Studying
Once I hit my mid-teens, I knew I wanted to be a real writer – you know, the kind that slaves away for years on a first novel! I read a lot. I dipped into Annie Dillard, Madeleine L’Engle, Ernest Hemingway. When I was in the mood for a good scare, I read Dean Koontz. I started reading literary criticism, like Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel. That book gave me ways to think about the themes I was already drawn to. It sits on a special shelf in my mental bookcase.
Since Then... Soaring!
About three years ago, I was struck by an image from another book. Before you cry plagiarism, let me remind you of what Cormac McCarthy says: “The ugly fact is that books are made of other books”.
Anyway, the image was one of a young man who was at loose ends, and he was sitting in the kitchen with this young woman who he’s been friends with for a long time. She and her husband are very poor and there is this odd moment of tenderness where the young man looks at her and sees her poverty and how life is weighing her down.
From that one image, I started to build a story. The characters got their own names and personalities. A shared background grew between them before I started writing.
I wrote a 14-page story about them and then shared it with several critique groups. The overwhelming response nudged me to start thinking of it as a potential novel instead of a short story. I was trying to tell a story with a strong backstory, but the backstory itself was more interesting than the present.
I’d always wanted to write a novel, so I should have been thrilled that I had one staring me in the face, right? I was terrified. I’d written what was my best short story to date and now I was going to potentially destroy it by attempting to turn it into a full-fledged novel. I had no idea if I’d be successful (still don’t actually, though it’s looking more likely as I near the end of writing the first draft), and I didn’t know if my love for the short story version would survive the trauma of reshaping it.
In the end, I decided to go for it. The short story would never satisfy my artistic side once I knew it could (and should) blossom into a novel.
So far, it’s been the most satisfying writing project I’ve ever undertaken. I fell completely in love with my characters, their world, and their journey. I can’t even imagine what I’d be writing if I’d left this one as a short story. That's why I titled this section "soaring" - I'm constantly learning, trying to apply what I'm learning, and working on a novel that's somehow come to life in spite of my fears.
Have you taken risks with your work? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love to hear about your writing process.