Friday, May 08, 2009

How Did You Get Started Writing?

I just got through speaking at Eastbrook High School to a class of creative writing students. They were very polite and listened, but I'm sure what I told them was overwhelming. It usually is when you first start thinking about writing for publication. Sometimes you have to hear the same things several times before it becomes a part of you.

I wish that every writer who wanted to be published could be published. That is not reality. You start with an idea--maybe something from your past, maybe something that happened, or maybe just something that intrigues you. Sometimes it takes years for a story to get published, but one thing is certain--you have to serve an apprenticeship and learn. And whether you are someone who has 75 books published, or are just publishing your first book, or are still trying to find that place to write--all writers have to learn and start somewhere and must continue to learn.

The students at Eastbrook asked some great questions. In doing so, I hope that they learned a little about themselves. The first question was "How did you get started?" Ask this question of authors and writers, and some answers will be the same, and some different.

I started off my writing journey in my freshman year of high school. I published a poem and seeing my own byline was a rush.Then, I got on the newspaper staff as sports editor and art editor in my senior year. Those articles were sent in to Ball State University and I won a journalism scholarship.

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere," so says Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, as she describes what her father tells her brother whom has a rough start when trying to get going on a school project about birds. "Just take it bird by bird," her father, also a writer, told him. "Do one bird, then do the next." Writing is like that.

I stuttered along in the years following college doing newsletters for organizations, curriculum material in my teaching, had four boys of my own, and taking a course here and there in writing. Then, when I was 40 years old, I took a professional writing class at Taylor University. That is really where I got my start. Dr. Dennis E. Hensley pushed us to publish. Early on in the class, when I barely knew him, we were on a break in the hall and he walked right into my "personal" space.

"I hate you," he said. I think he scowled.

"Really?" I didn't know what to make of this, but I'd heard he was a Vietnam War vet and it crossed my mind that this could get ugly.

"Why," and I laughed for effect, "do you hate me, Dr. Hensley?" I made a point to not move away from him.

And then he passionately proceeded to tell me what I had done to him, the reader of my story, to evoke such an extreme distaste for what I'd written. In that moment I knew he cared about what I had written and wanted it to be better. It WAS personal. It was personal to him, the reader. It was personal to me, the writer. And between us we needed to come to an understanding. That is what writing is--a communication between the author and the reader. It is just the two of you in that space--that very personal space.

If you write, tell me how YOU got started.I'll be sharing with you the questions the students had for me and a little of what I shared with them, too.


Donna Clark Goodrich said...

I wrote my first poem for my mother for Mother's Day at age 9 because I didn't have any money to get her anything. Another poem about soldiers for Memorial Day at 10 (our pastor put it in the bulletin) and one at 11 when my dad left. Sold my first poem at 14 and my first short story at 18. Guess it's in my blood and I can't get away from it!

Donna Clark Goodrich

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I started writing during nap times at my home day care in order to keep my sanity. Every afternoon, after the six squirrely preschoolers went to their beds, I escaped into the Gold Rush time period where my characters waited patiently to tell me what happened next. I never dreamed I would actually complete the book (alas, it is lovingly stored in a drawer)and go on to actually publish a book or two. Who knew?

Crystal Laine said...

No doubt, Donna, that it's in your blood! That is something I said to them--if you are a writer, you will write. You certainly can write!

One of the questions I got from the students was how to get poems published. I guided her to the Sally Stuart Market Guide, but this has not been my focus in the past few years, so I told her she would have to do a little research.

Ironic that we started off doing poetry.

Crystal Laine said...

Who knew, Debbie, that Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon would be born? (And such a good book!)

I'm glad you followed your heart!

Christine Lindsay said...

I think a lot of writers get started when something burns in their heart. That's the way it was with me. After meeting my birthdaughter---the child I relinquished to adoption---I simply had to tell our story. But it was so much more than that; I believe it was a compelling of the Holy Spirit. After 9 years, I still feel as though God has called me to tell His truth in a fictional story. And then again, He wired me this way to begin with. Gotta tell a story.

Crystal Laine said...

Christine, since I've read your stories, I know how much passion and skill in storytelling that you have. You are a strong storyteller!

This is how a writer starts writing--with her or his heart leading the way.

Such good advice for anyone starting their own writing journey.