Friday, June 19, 2009

Why do we write?

After returning from a SCBWI Conference this past weekend, I have been thinking about the reasoning behind my decision to pursue a career as a novelist. The most pressing answer to my query is simply one of need. I have to write.

I began writing as a child. I kept some of my attempts at writing books when I was on summer breaks between sixth and eighth grades many years ago. My daughters have looked at the handwritten pages, impressed with my youthful plots and love stories.

In college I was drawn towards both creative and professional writing. My professors would say write fiction in the evenings and on weekends, during your free time from your "real" (= paying) job. My first real job was as a paste-up artist at a weekly newspaper. Strips of text and headlines would come out of typesetting machines and I would have to cut it up using an X-acto knife and T-square ruler. I was surrounded by words.

When my editors found out I used to write for my college paper, they asked if I wanted to write for them. So I did. One theater review became two and then more. I began reading the press releases flooding the office. During my career there I wrote many entertainment pieces: interviews with musicians like James Galway; singers Patty Larkin, John Gorka and Christine Lavin; actors like the wonderful Robert Cuccioli; the brilliant poet (and also a teacher of mine), Billy Collins; community groups and pet rescue organizations. Mostly everything I enjoyed covering dealt with the Arts. I loved it. Every interview, each photo I took, every caption I wrote.

I still layed out the pages of the paper, except the wax was replaced with computers. The Atex VDT 68 was popular when it first came out. I worked with two screens, one for text and the other to visualize the pages themselves. For a paper with three sections there were loads of code I had to type in to place items on each page (Aah! I still can see lines of it, X=2/xn/4p). Designing a two-page spread could be a royal pain. But I enjoyed it all.

That lasted for a couple of years and then Macs and PCs took over. I thought Photoshop and Quark were the greatest inventions ever. I had my own scanner on my work station. Digital cameras sat alongside SLRs. Dealing with deadlines was better when I had freedom to create a page the way I visualized it on the screen.

And I still wrote. I even visited local schools and interviewed students for the Kids page I edited. Those pages were the most fun to create, mixing student's stories and poems with their artwork.

My career there lasted thirteen years and I left to be with my family, to raise my two girls and, as life has a way of throwing curveballs, my son a few years later. I never regretted my decision to leave.

But that need was still there inside me. Images would pop up in my head. I'd force them away. A voice would try to break through. I refused it. Instead of listening, I used that time reading. I've always had a thing for books. No trip out was complete until I had perused some racks at Barnes & Noble (or whatever bookstore was close by).

I finally gave in to the need six years ago. My mind was filled with these characters, what they looked like, did, said, their problems, etc. I sat down with a new spiral notebook and an idea for a story. That notebook became five, then ten. When I had trouble deciphering my handwriting I moved over to a laptop. Now my stories fill up files in MS Word.

So I satiate the need to write by doing just that. I still carry mini notebooks with me, for those have-to-jot-it-down-NOW! moments, and little scraps of paper pile up by my computer. I am actively feeding the need. And learning about publishing, the business part of being an author, attending workshops and conferences, whatever I need to do, I do. Plus read. A lot. (I don't forget my family, either. Time management is important.)

I couldn't be happier. Now, when I'm awakened at three in the morning because a great idea for a scene popped into my noggin, I give it my complete attention. It feels good. There are times when I'm frustrated or doubt my talent or ability, yet I move on and continue.

So if you're reading this, you're probably a writer too. Good! I'm calling my blog "Portals of Discovery."