What Writing Means to Me (Part 7)

I've written bits and pieces of my journey as a writer in this series, but I haven't talked much about actual progress. Or actual projects, I should say. This is where it gets comical and highly revealing. In the interest of authenticity, and in order to shed light on where I am today, I thought it high time I shared.

As I've already detailed previously, I took a creative writing class geared toward short stories in my senior year of college. (Rebecca took that class with me, too, in fact.) I wrote three short stories that semester, all of them pitiful, and left the class in a greater quagmire of self-loathing and confusion than when I began. I had officially entered my "tortured artist" phase.

The following semester, I took a class on writing for children. Besides reading lots of great contemporary children's lit, our first assigment was to come up with five high concepts for children's novels, which basically means creating story ideas that can be boiled down into a sentence. After this, we had to pick one idea and develop it into an outline. Then we had to write the first 30 pages, pitch a query letter to an actual publisher, and wait and see what happened.

Mine was one of two novels that got a favorable response from a publisher: Scholastic wanted to see the full manuscript -- wow! The only trouble was, I had written just 30 pages. I was about to graduate from college. I was looking for jobs and trying to finish a senior thesis. I didn't have much time for writing a novel.

So I asked my professor for his advice.

"Do you realize how rare it is to get a response from a publisher?" he asked. "Especially when your query was unsolicited and unagented?"

"I think so," I said in a small, small voice.

"You have to finish it," he said. "How could you possibly not?"

I agreed with him and kept on writing. I took a graduation trip up north to do extra research on land deeds and farms. (My novel was set on a farm in Central California during the Great Depression.) In all, I wrote about 30 more pages but then stopped. I got stuck, or I got feedback -- I don't know which -- and never finished. I still wonder how things would have turned out if I'd actually finished that book. Maybe someday I will.

Over the next two years, as I was working out my thoughts on calling and vocation in real life, I started a new novel about a girl who -- surprise, surprise -- was working out issues of calling and vocation in her life, too. I moved to Missouri and, while there, petitioned into a members-only writer's group and kept plugging away at this book. When I moved back to California not long after, I gave this entire book up. I had, again, hit the 70-page-mark wall.

I should probably mention here that I was living in my writer-poser phase this entire time. I was enamoured with the idea of being a writer, being an editor, and being in publishing. I was stunned by the freedom of expression I could find in writing, since I had been a rather shy, repressed person in my younger years, but I didn't know what this meant. You can't just move from sharing nothing to sharing anything and/or everything in one fell swoop, you know. At least, I couldn't. I felt tortured, totally hung up on my own hang-ups and unable to see my way out of them.

Along about this time, after I'd moved back to California, my writing aspirations went underground and my hopes for an academic life bubbled up. This post here details the way I was led eventually back to the page in that long saga. And if you want to know what I've been up to ever since, you're going to have to stay tuned . . .