I remember distinctly my 6th grade assignment to write a story about anything. I was a straight-A student, was a neurotic perfectionist over my grades even at eleven years old, loved reading more than anything in the world, and truly thought I had it inside of me to write something on par with The Incredible Journey, my favorite book at that time.
Part of the assignment was to illustrate our story. I drew a picture of a mouse with a Santa Claus hat on his head. The picture wasn't bad, but I had no story to go with it. No words to say why or how this little mouse got his hat. No story to say if he was getting presents, delivering presents, or was in a little mousey Christmas play. Nothing. Nada. My mind was a blank. I felt myself a failure.
In high school and my late teens, I wrote some rather inaccessible poems, most of which had destructive images with unclear meaning, but nothing that I would let anyone else read. I still couldn't bring myself to write a story - a series of events with characters and setting. It was beyond me - I never tried but saw myself as a failure that I couldn't attempt this thing that I loved.
I had writer's block that lasted until I was twenty two years old and was in my final year of college. At least twice while I was in college working on a B.A. in English Literature, I signed up for and immediately dropped creative writing classes. It was a complete breakthrough that I made it through the first week of a poetry writing class. I have two really lame poems that I remember sweating over from that class. I couldn't handle the critique - so I dropped it ASAP.
During my last year of college and just after graduating, I decided I could be a children's writer. I wrote several cute children's stories. I let my mother-in-law read one. She got out her red pen. I put them in a drawer and didn't write another word of fiction for fifteen years. I pushed the idea out of my head into a place I decided not to see.
When I got divorced about nine years ago, my friends and co-workers suggested I start my own blog - a newish concept then - to rant about my ex. The ranting needed to be fictionalized to protect myself from lawsuits and, honestly, to make it more kind. I wrote about my struggles with my ex and the daily difficulties of being a single mom with an infant and a first grader under the guise of different characters. I signed the entries with different names and wrote with different styles for each character. By the time I started feeling better about my ex, I had written 30,000+ words, had many days where my co-workers were laughing out loud, and had found my voice as a writer and restored the confidence of that little girl that thought she couldn't tell a story.
Now I am writing full time - by that I mean I am writing for 6 or 8 hours a week, whatever time I can squeeze away from the time my family and that perpetual mountain of laundry need from me. When I was writing my blog, the writing process was natural - one entry a day on the same topic fictionalized to protect myself. Today, over the last six months or so, maybe longer, I have been able to be productive writing by sitting down away from my laundry pile and my family, usually at a coffee shop but often hold up at my desk with the door shut, and writing one chapter at a time of one of several stories I already have in my mind and have jotted down on my over-sized white board that fills a wall.
What occurs to me about writing when I am not engrossed and absorbed in writing a chapter is that there isn't magic to the writing. Writing is not a magic trick - there are no bunnies in the hat.
The magic is in the story line, deciding what the story will be about and who the characters are, and giving your mind the time to form it before you write the first word. That is magic because we do take our ideas from our lives, a lot of it from painful memories or experiences that were uncomfortable enough to be memorable. The magic is in our ability to one day share the memories and turn them into stories that we want to tell, stories that may have been painful or uncomfortable that we can turn into laughter and comfort. Obviously, not all stories are based on our memories, but something of who we are has to be in them - and we as authors have to be able and ready to share that.
I am struck by how long it took me to find a writing process that works for me. I am also struck by the amount of books and articles I have read about the writing process that have helped me to gain confidence in my writing and to cut through the crap of the day by getting it out through a fastwrite. But more about that later .... my time is up - laundry and baby are calling.