You know that proverbial feather that flattens you without warning? Well, you could have knocked me down with it the day I realized I’d written four novels. Add to these, two stubborn characters who – like moving targets – refuse to interface with me long enough to give me a handle on their personalities and complete stories.
I never lose the drive to showcase what I do with words. I’ve never written for self-satisfaction – to stash my work away, hidden from criticism and praise. I write to be read. I write because at this point, I have a boatload of ideas and characters who have stories they want to share. Every so often, they move into my headspace and start talking: You know you want to write my story, so here’s what’s happening with me…
One of the best decisions I made was to enroll in a writing workshop early in 2008. My tutor was frank to the point of rudeness, but countered his facetious remarks with good advice and excellent feedback. As a writer, he understood the fragility of the egos involved. Early on in our sessions, he asked me why I’d stopped writing. I didn’t give him a real answer, but knew I’d made the right choice to attend his workshop when he remarked that I should have been writing years ago.
Under his tutelage, I learned to simplify my writing. Forget what you know about writing reports and taking minutes, this is fiction! It’s far different! he said. Easier said than done, but I’m learning to choose the five dollar word over the ten dollar one, which is something else he hammered in my head. Regrettably, I didn’t get to tell him before he died that I’ll be published.
Late in 2004, I joined a blogging network and penned a handful of short stories. Members encouraged me with comments that some of the stories could be extended into novels. I thought about it for a bit, but didn’t follow up on those suggestions. By then, I’d grown bored with blogging and started searching for genuine writing networks.
Enter The Next Big Writer. The site was just launched (November 2005) and my greatest desire then was to improve my storytelling skills. By that time, I’d started thinking about a character for a Young Adult novel who wouldn’t stop talking to me. Christine was loosely based on someone I’d met. After combing through countless articles on novel writing, and hemming and hawing about whether I could actually write a whole novel, I penned the first chapter of Christine’s story and posted it on the site.
In retrospect, it was terrible. My biggest problem was starting in one point of view and staying there. The emotion was evident, but the mechanics of good writing were all missing. Criticism was sometimes harsh, but always helpful, and with the assistance and guidance of better writers, plus that arsenal of articles on writing, I reshaped the novel. To date, the members of TNBW have had the biggest impact on my growth as a writer. This is where I threw off my shyness and dared tell myself I was a writer.
I knew storytelling would stay with me once I started writing Christine’s Odyssey. I was thrilled and flattered to find other people invested in the mixed fortunes of a twelve-year-old girl, birthed from my imagination. They cried when she did and cheered when she triumphed. I started a second novel before I completed the first and somewhere in the crafting of that story, I morphed into a writer. This not-so-new hobby wasn’t something I’d be putting aside any time soon, due to boredom.
But why had I denied myself the pleasure of writing stories for twenty years? The need to earn a living pushed the creative urge aside and the irony is, that same need rekindled my interest. Simply put, I needed money. But before I presumed to write anything, I did a week’s worth of research on the internet which nearly sent me blind. After that, I cranked out my first article under a pseudonym. To date, I’ve been paid for every other article except that first one. D’you think I had a premonition when I called that article If I Knew Then…?
Many of us who write, shy away from calling ourselves writers. We think it’s presumptuous to assume that title, especially if we haven’t been published and/or paid. I was one of those and even after I was paid several times over, I still wondered whether I’d made the grade. Am I a writer now? I’d ask myself. But no light bulb clicked on, nor did I get any sudden revelation that my status had officially changed.
With time, my views have shifted. A writer is defined as someone who writes for money or a person who can write and has written something. The Pocket Oxford Dictionary describes it as a person who writes books or articles as an occupation. I believe the latter definition is most accurate. Writing is now an activity that occupies much of my time. It is part of who I’ve become and it’s part of who I’ll be in the future. Moreover, I will continue to write whether I make money or not. That, to me, is the essence of writing. Something I do for enjoyment. Call it a compulsion that stemmed from another habit.
Writing is a natural progression from reading. Numerous writers have revealed that they dared to write after reading a book and thinking that they could do as good a job, or better. In grade eight (second form to Jamaicans), I wrote romance novels like the ones I liked to read, but my career as a novelist didn’t last long.
The teenage years intervened, and my focus changed to studying, but I never stopped reading. I can thank my love of books to my mother who provided them early and to a cousin who was an avid reader. She turned me on to books – pardon the pun, but you’ll see what I mean in a moment. Unfortunately, the material I read then was not stuff she should have left around for a pre-teen to digest. At the slightest opportunity, I’d steal into our room to read about titillating and impossible acrobatic activity between men and women and sometimes people of the same sex.
Those stories were a long way from the girls’ adventure novels and books of limericks I got from the school library. The tame Mills and Boon romance novels, which I devoured alongside these, paled in comparison to the activities of the nymphomaniacs in the smutty stories.
The nuns at the Catholic schools I attended encouraged us to read and thanks to their vigilance, I developed an eclectic taste. But they would have been horrified to know I’d graduated from reading the Bible – which my mother insisted I read at home (setting the stage for school) – to forbidden material.
Now, if you’ve got this far, picture a band of little kids huddled over a collection of book covers. Visualize attractive-but-sappy-looking females with flowing hair and ecstatic expressions. The same ones from historical romances, decked out in voluminous gowns and draped over the arms of muscle-bound men. The titles always came embossed with gold lettering.
That’s my first memory of reading. Some long-forgotten man, who lived in our tenement in Kingston , used to bring home the discarded covers. I’m not sure why. To entertain us kids, maybe? My aunt told me he worked for a book manufacturer and distributor, which is how he came by those goodies, which provided hours of entertainment for us children. We’d read the titles, shuffle them, trade them, and fight over them until they were dog-eared.
That’s where my fascination with books started, with those discarded book covers, and the love affair hasn’t ended. Today, I’m in the process of deciding on the cover I like for my book, which will be released next April. I’m also getting ready to edit a follow-up novel for publication.
I think about reading and writing as a process through which I’ve come full circle. I’m still an avid reader, but now I’m also a prolific writer. I’m living my dream. Seven novels, two partials, and an assortment of stories and articles later, I have endless tales to tell and the passion to nurture each new story to fruition.
More than anything else, this is how I know I’m a writer.
How do you know that writing is what you were meant to do?