The first inkling that being a writer might fit me occurred when I was eight years old. Our prim, petite third grade teacher at A.J. West Elementary encouraged everyone in the class to write something for the Grays Harbor Young Author’s Conference that year, though only a few did. I wrote a story that I can’t even remember now, though I know that it lacked much and had only two or three sentences handwritten per blank white page, each with a childlike illustration below. I stayed after school to bind the pages together with blue yarn and made a laminated cover and a title page. Then, boook in hand, I proudly attended my first YAC the following Saturday, where I listened to Steven Kellogg explain how he wrote and illustrated his stories and attended workshops where we wrote to prompts and read our work aloud to each other.
Not once since that Saturday have I seriously considered the possibility that I might not want to write. The writing part is easy. I have boxes and boxes full of old notebooks and thousands of files on my computer that serve as evidence of my compulsion to write.
Flunking out of my first quarter of college wasn’t going to stop me. By that time I had four years of food service experience that felt like mastery and I worked as both a cook and a waitress at a diner. I didn’t need college to write. All I needed was a typewriter from the junk store and enough money to buy coffee and cigarettes. But my dream of being a female Bukowski died when I got pregnant at 20 and decided to have the baby and be a good parent.
If I had any hope of succeeding as a mother I knew I had to give college another go, so I enrolled in Poetry Writing and Arts and Ideas that first quarter, safe choices that would serve as a warm up for greater challenges to come, like Chemistry and Math 107.
And that marks the point at which writing became this hobby that I had to strategize to make time for. But I did strategize and I keep strategizing. I’ve raised a child. I’ve been teaching high school English now for fourteen years, and I’m still scheming away about how to write and be a writer.
This past school year has been a crap one for getting any writing done and I’m starting to stare at that $60,000 MFA on my wall and wonder what the hell I was thinking spending all that money on something that will never be more than a hobby when I do not have money to spare, have never had money to spare, had to borrow against my own optimism to pay for college in the first place. When I enrolled in a rather expensive private college as an undergrad, I thought teaching meant pretty big bucks and a comfortable life. When you are raised on government cheese, this is an easy mistake to make. I also thought teaching meant summers off and therefore plenty of time to write my Great American Novel. The truth is: teaching is challenging work that never ends and when you are by personality an ambitious person and a hard worker, you do things like decide to go for your National Board Certification the very year that might have been your first year without a school-aged child at home to care for.
But my NB portfolio is complete and I sat down last Monday to begin writing again.
I was going to write! Finally! I was going to write!
And then the sky fell. No chicken-little, about it. I shut my iPad, stared hopelessly at the wall and cried like a toddler who’d dropped her toy off the deck. I couldn’t even remember what it was I last decided I should be working on. At least four pots were simmering on the back burner and I couldn’t remember where I had left off in tending to them. Once I calmed down, I remembered that this problem I could solve. I opened document after document, read passages, paused to ponder, and finally picked up the thread of what I’m working on.
I’m back, hopefully stronger and more committed, and now with a plan that includes self-publishing my novel for reasons that I’ll write about in my next post about why I write and why I’ve come around to an idea that I previously shunned: self-publishing.
What are you working on? How is your writing going?