Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How the Red Cross Almost Killed Me

 And Jason Bourne Saved My Life
Or, in other words,
Happy Writing Birthday!

Lois Mcmaster Bujold, author of some of my favorite books including the Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls, began writing in her teens, petered out during college, but started up again when she found herself unemployed with two small children and a very tight budget.

Stephen King started his writing career young, with a homemade newspaper, and never stopped creating.

Stephanie Meyer had only dabbled in unrelated chapters and hadn't written a word for six years before she had the dream that was to become Twilight. The first book of the series was completed three months later.

We all have a story of how we started writing. Whether you can't remember a time when ideas didn't flow through you, or if something triggered the itch to write more recently, these personal narratives are as unique as we are.

My second writing birthday has just passed (or rewriting birthday as you'll soon see). I thought I'd share my convoluted tale that finally brought me to the point where I can say 'Why yes, I am a writer' without cringing too much.

I'd love to hear your stories in the comments.

My mom and dad refused to allow a tv into the house until I was eight, and then it was only grudgingly accepted as a gift from my grandparents who were shipping off to Tonga as missionaries for two years and wouldn't need it. During those first eight years of my life, without the Flinstones or Scooby Doo or HR Pufnstuf to keep me company, what else was there to do but read and climb trees and imagine?

Writing was the natural by-product.

Recently my mom gave me a file cabinet full of my school age writing. It's been fun to go back and see a younger me that I can barely remember. Here's a taste, the first 13 of a story called Watch Over that I wrote when I was sixteen. Riahd might be heir to the watch tower of Tolderan, but he and his father have never seen eye to eye. After staying away two years, he returns to his home only to find that the aggressive and expansionist Kole (think Ghengis Kahn) has captured the tower, overridden the land and destroyed his family. Disguised, he infiltrates the tower to seek revenge, but finds that things are more complicated and convoluted than he had ever imagined.

The sun rose in full splendor, burning off the night sent mists and promising a clear hunt. Golden rays gilded the autumn touched treetops and sent the granite stones of Tolderan tower shimmering in the early light. The tower rose from a glade like an ancient tree reaching far above the forest heights. Its iron gates alone could easily admit twelve horses abreast and over fifty could be kept inside with ample room for grain and supplies. The thin slit windows kept endless watch over the forested border between Thol and Sheris.

A solitary rider stood silently at the edge of the glade. He shaded his eyes and stared toward the banner flapping idly in the morning breeze. A raven glared back defiantly against a blood red background. The man swore and slammed his fist on the saddle's pommel.

 By today's standards it's purple prose-ish, probably doesn't intro the main character soon enough, but you know what, I'm still kinda proud of that 16 year old girl.

If only I'd kept writing.

But two years later I left for college, and for some reason I thought I needed to leave 'childish' things behind. I went into the sciences. I didn't write creatively again and hardly picked up a book for the next two decades. Looking back I just think, what the heck was wrong with me???

Well, fast forward those two decades and I was laid out on a gurney in my church's gymnasium donating blood. I think they took too much because I almost fainted, barely drove home, curled in bed cold as ice and shaking (isn't that shock or something?) and stayed like that for days. I couldn't do anything, so I picked up my husband's copy of The Bourne Identity. And the two sequels, and anything else I could get my hands on. Six huge books and three days later, and something snapped or rewired or something in my brain. Ideas started flowing and I started scribbling on any available paper. It was literally a light bulb being turned on. Do you think there's something to the medieval practice of blood-letting after all?

 I'm so thankful for a patient husband and kids, because I'm not the same person I was two years ago, at all. But I do feel more like 'me', if that makes any sense. Like a piece of me has been restored, adding a little more balance to my unbalanced life. As frustrating and gut wrenching as getting the right words on the page can be to me, I'm so grateful for having a second chance at writing. And I'm thankful for this awesome community of Prosers.

                                So, have some birthday cake, 
                                                                     and tell me, 
                                                                                      what's your writing story?

~ Susan


  1. Happy Writing Birthday, Susan! I'm amazed that you've only been writing for two years, you're so darn talented.

    It was Tamora Pierce that switched my brain on, just the same way the Bourne books did for you. I had just finished reading the first book in the Alanna series, and I wanted to read the next one, but I had two sleeping 8 and 9 month-olds ( babysitting), no car, and I lived too far from the library.

    So instead, I started to write my own story, and I haven't looked back. That eight month old (the one that was genetically mine) is now seven.

    1. I've only read one of Tamora Pierce's books (hangs head in shame), but I can see where that would be a great jumping off point to writing.

      It's been so much fun to crit your book (I'm almost done - yay!) - and just so everyone reading this knows (especially all you agents and publishers) - it's awesome.

  2. Not bad indeed, Susan! I have a story of mine from when I was sixteen and it's nowhere near that good of writing.

    I did write a lot when I was a kid. But mostly story ideas and concepts rather than whole stories. I did finish a few short stories for the Young Author's Faire, but nothing on my own until I was in high school. Even back then, almost all my ideas were sci-fi/fantasy (though I also had a story about a girl getting lost in the wood with a broken leg and only her golden retriever to help her survive. One of those stories where the MC lives on berries and builds forts out of sticks and leaves).

    My story about how I got into writing seriously is rather depressing, actually. I might do a whole blog post about it in a week or two.

    1. Wow, I would have loved to have read the story about the golden retriever when I was younger. Okay, even now. My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books.

  3. I guess I like purple prose. I wish I'd decided to write as young as you. I turned up my nose at a journalism class in high school and didn't realize I wanted to write until I hit half a century. Now I'll be writing on my senior mission, and probably still my first book. That many years of stifled imagination stuffed into one book didn't work. I've had to split it twice, into two series, and probably 4-6 books. Don't give up!

    1. One of the beauties of writing, imho, is that it's never too late. I might not fulfill a dream to be an olympic gymnast now, but as long as my brain functions (questionable, some days) I can keep writing. And don't you find you have a broader perspective and nuance in the things you write now than you would have earlier?

  4. Mine is kind of depressing too. I always wanted to write, but rarely did, even as a kid. When I decided to home school my fifth grader 4 years ago, I learned about Nanowrimo, and that became our writing adventure together. It was freeing and amazing and everything I needed. Then my mom got leukemia, and writing and loud music became coping mechanisms for me, stranded clear across the country from her. I learned how to get lost inside my own head. Now I'm healing from that dreadful experience, and I'm trying to keep the good parts and discard the unhealthy parts.

    1. Melanie, I'm so sorry about your mom.

      A while back you said we were strangely alike. Well, here's one more thing to add to the list - I homeschool my kids, too. Yay homeschooling! I'm glad you picked up writing, and that Sheena picked us for the Prosers so we could get to know one another.

    2. I don't homeschool my kids all the time. I didn't feel capable of meeting their social needs when we lived in the middle of nowhere. Now that we're in a city, I think I could manage.

      I feel like I'm in charge of my children's education and homeschooling is always on the table as an option. My kids spend more time in the school system than out, but they can all count on at least one year at home with me, possibly more.

      I hope you'll still count it as another way we are alike. I do!

  5. I wrote my first book in high school too, but your sixteen-year-old self was a much better writer than mine. Being a professional writer seemed like an unobtainable dream, so I too abandoned writing in college.

    I told my husband about my novel, and he wanted to read it, but my handwritting was so horrible he couldn't (yes, I hand wrote an entire novel). So I decided to type it up. After reading a few pages, I realized that I could do much better, so I decided to rewrite the whole thing. I had so much fun that I googled how to get published and decided maybe it wasn't so unobtainable. Anyway, four years later and here I am. :)

    @Melanie, I'm so sorry about your mom. I hope she got better.

    1. I have a novel idea from when I was sixteen, too. But I'm not skilled enough to get it out right yet. My current novel is a practice novel of sorts to build up some writing chops. Hopefully I'll get good enough to write the story I want to write before I get too old.


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