Everyone has to start somewhere. First solid food, first steps, first words, first day of school, first grade, first dance, first kiss, first day of high school, first love, first place, first day of college, first day on the job, first marriage (I'm still on that and plan to stay there,) first child...well, you get my drift here.
I always hated first days, actually. I tend to block out those beginnings. I can't remember my first solid food, for example (though they tell me it was pear preserves that my grandmother made. Sure liked them.) There is some excitement, of course, but still not only the anticipation, but the actual trying to do that first thing is a bit of a pain.
Because of Books & Such's Etta Wilson's blog on writing your first book, I was thinking about my writing in high school. I was the school newspaper's art editor and my high school's first woman sports editor. (I had two football players for my flunkies! It was cool.) But my desire was to write fiction. So, I wrote almost every day in these notebooks I kept, specifically with that in mind. I wrote about my own life, and it was raw and unchecked and painful. My high school years were quite painful--not the high school days which were my relief, but my home life. I kept it all hidden, but didn't hide it from my "book."
When I graduated, I was off to college with a journalism scholarship and couldn't wait to leave home. But before I left home, I took my book and burned it in a barrel, page-by-page. It felt great. I thought I was on a whole new chapter of my life and that I could leave it all behind. No one told me that you carry all that with you--that it was written in my mind and heart. I'm sure a lot of that book deserved the flames of editing ("just burn that thing!") but I never forgot how it felt to write it out, how it felt to start that book.
Interestingly enough, the only person I ever let read even a small portion was my cousin, Sally Jo. She was a daughter of missionaries and they were on furlough from Africa. We older kids stayed in my family's camper in the driveway and of course, that meant long talks and giggling. I pulled out my notebook and let her read portions. She claimed later that inspired her to begin writing, too. She later published many articles and books. She suffered from lupus, but died of pancreatic cancer. She was fearless. She accomplished much in her too short life.
I've had many people come to me with their writing, wanting me to read it and more importantly, to see if they could find a way to publish their writing. I always think of Sally and encourage them to work hard on it. It is a joy in my life to have a part in someone's success. Yes, I might set fire to a few words in the process, but I never completely burn it to the ground, like I did my own writing.
Some of that which I burned on the eve of heading to college has somehow sprouted anew in this late stage of my life. I've been thinking over what I could use from those years where I first wrote so raw and furiously. I sometimes wish I had those words to look over, to feel that first empowerment of directing characters and my own life--to have that control I so didn't have over my own circumstances. It may be why I'm so unsatisfied with anything I write today. Or maybe I just need to start at the beginning. Use that first fire to warm my soul.