I have been asked by several people on several different occasions to write a post on this, so here you go. Get your pillows and be ready to experience some serious boredom; I am no J.K. Rowling with a great sob-slash-victory story that will inspire you for decades to come. You have been warned.
First off, what does it mean to be a writer? In a world where all it takes is an online degree and fancy plaque on the wall to be anything that you want to be, how do we define writer?
The same way as anything else. Say I tell you that I am a runner. (Or a knitter.) You are going to assume that I have at least run, I don't know, a 5K, or something. (Or that I knitted a scarf one Christmas by the fire.) But if I tell you that all I have is the ability to run (or knit), but don't actually practice it, you are going to look at me funny, and ask me if I forgot to take my medicine. I am saying that just because you have the ability to write by no means makes you a writer. Even if you wrote all those essays in high school, or maybe even took some writing courses in college. That doesn't make you a writer. So what does?
Writing, that's what.
As for my story, here it is in a nutshell.
I was born loving stories. I have one memory, now distant, of when I was wee. I was in some kind of nursery, and I remember sitting in someone's lap and being read to. I was watching the other kids play, but I remember feeling this sleepy contentment, like nothing could be better.
As I got older, I began loving stories in any shape and form. At about, oh, probably five or so, I fell in love with Old Time Radio dramas, like Suspense, The Shadow, The Whistler, and others. (I still love these to this day.) Due to my love for Radio Dramas, my father wrote me a story. It was about a princess who had to rid the land of the evil elf Erx, his bees that plagued the land. That was huge for me. Though still a child, the idea that I could create my own stories was a milestone for me. (My father has since written me numerous poems and two more books, both of which are novels, each one longer and meant for an older audience. I love all of them.)
At about six, I wrote my first chapter book. It was only about six pages long, about a sick man who couldn't help his family. Of course it had a happy ending, and was terribly written (I didn't understand the comma in those days, and thought they had to be used in between words that were written too close together), but that was only the beginning.
After both kindergarten and the first grade, I began reading more. I was the weird kid who read books three grades above her level, who wore glasses, and didn't play sports. This never bothered me, however, because I liked what I liked, and if you didn't like that, that was your problem.
As the years went on, my writing went in stages. I would either be writing a ton and super excited, thinking I may actually be good at this, or I would not have written anything for months, convinced I sucked and would never be good at anything. But my reading has always been a constant. Never do I go anywhere without a book in my bag, ready to read at all times. I remember one summer in particular (I think I was twelve or so) when I made a reading list for myself. It was a whopper, with 27 novels on it. I read every single one of them. Some I liked, some I didn't, but I was determined to read them, so I did. (I will be happy to recommend books to you whenever; just ask in the comments, and a list will be published shortly!) I think that, more than almost anything, reading is what has spurred my writing on.
It was around that time that I sat down at my mom's laptop one day and began pantsing a novel. I had no plan, no idea where the story was headed, but I wanted to tell a story. I worked tirelessly on that "novel" for months. I had ups and downs, but in the end, some eight months later, I came out with a rough draft. It was the first long-form book that I had ever finished. Woo hoo!
Looking back on that, I know that what I wrote that year was the worst piece of fiction ever to be jotted down, but that wasn't the point. The point was, I wrote a book. It was hardly original, barely worthy to be called a book at 12,252 words. But that was a real writing journey for me. I had made up my mind to write, and I wrote. I shudder each time I read my sad attempts at prose, but that never takes away from the fact that writing that book was the most momentous leap my writing has taken. It was that first leap that took me from the realm of those who want to write, and those who write.
I remember I even sent that book off to Beta Readers (shudder) in its unrevised state. But after that, I really put that story away and it has not resurfaced since. That's just the way it goes.
After the writing of the horrible fantasy book, I began dabbling in other genres, trying to see where I best fit. I have written a story in every genre now, and learned that horror/thriller/sci-fi are not my strongest points. But that is okay with me. Here's a tip: if you don't like reading it, you won't like writing it. File that one away for the future, okay?
I began pumping out ideas. I was a story-idea generator in those days (none of the ideas were very good, but you know; I was twelve). My writing still fluctuated; good weeks, bad weeks. Lots of writing, no writing. But overall, it was no longer morphing greatly.
That is, until my fifteenth summer.
I had this idea. It was a great one. Maybe even the greatest I'd yet had. I was sure that I could do something awesome with this idea. I had to. So, I sat down to write. About three weeks and thirty pages later, I realized that there was a problem. I had been at this story for almost a month, and yet I was only thirty pages in? They were good pages, to be sure, but they were few in number, and my story had barely begun. What was my problem?
I was editing as I wrote. I would write a scene one day, and the next day go back and "fix" it. My prose was good, but what I was beginning to realize is that you have to have something to work with before you can begin that work. I had to get my story out. I had to just vomit words on a page, as it were, and then go back, and then make it eloquent and moving.
Easier said than done.
I would do really well for a while, and then I'd fall write back in the old habits. (And you ought to know by now that the puns are intended.) As they say, old habits die hard. And don't I know it. I would push and try, but always it was a losing battle. I wrote, and I re-wrote, and I tried not to re-write, but I always ended up rewriting.
It was sometime last summer when I first heard about NaNoWriMo. I had been in one of my common writing-slouches, and was feeling sorry for myself about it. I wanted to be writing, I wanted to have fun writing, and I wanted to actually finish something. There is something about finishing that is do rewarding, wouldn't you agree?
Anyway, I was surfing the net, doing nothing really, when I stumbled upon a video on YouTube by Kristina Horner. She filmed everyday of November during one NaNoWriMo, and as soon as I watched that video, I signed up. I was so pumped at first, but November was still seven months away. In all that time, my list of story ideas grew, but my actual output was minimal, save one short story.
But midway through October, I remembered that little video I had seen, and my excitement for NaNoWriMo grew. I was ready to write. All I had to do was settle on a story to tell. So, out of all the 20+ ideas I had floating around, I chose a new idea. One that was cooked up just days before the start of NaNo. I rushed through the outlining stages, and before I knew it, NaNoWriMo 2015 had begun.
The month was a blur. I wrote in the early mornings, while the world was still drowsy, and afterwards, I always had time to do whatever it was that I needed to do. The best thing about it was that it pushed me to finish, and if I was striving to get to that end goal, then I was less concerned with the editing. I knew that it would come, and that was good enough for me. And the rest, they say, is history. I finished my book, and in January began the rewrite. I have since done four drafts and hammered out about three new outlines.
NaNoWriMo is what challenged me to put into action what I had been learning through the reading on books on writing, and just reading for pleasure. It challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could do, to push harder, and to finish something.
After all these years, after all the reading I have done, and after all the times I have tried, I have finally done it. I have written a novel. It's not perfect yet, and it may never be. But I have done it, and I will continue to write for the rest of my life. I know now that no matter what, writing is forever a part of myself and my life, and it always will be.
So, it is with many more stories on the way that I write this. And I would like to challenge you, whoever you are, whatever your dreams are, pursue those dreams. It may come to naught, It might turn out that you don't like it anyway. But something beautiful may come of it. You might be forever changed. Just maybe.
Are you willing to take that risk?