Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing to Facilitate Change

By Martha Reed

I fell in with a very intellectual group of writers the other night and part of the discussion was what initiated them to begin their writing careers. Like most writers, they agreed that they were born that way but this group had pursued it via Academia where most of the working writers I know are like me: we don’t have MFAs, we work jobs and raise families and we carve out a precious portion of our time for the writing but everyone who writes seems to agree that we couldn’t stop writing even if we wanted to.

The point of the discussion, though, made me stop and try to remember what made me start writing and I think the answer goes all the way back to the sixth-grade. We moved that year and my new English teacher could see that I was struggling to fit in with my new life, my new friends, even my new geography – the history I brought with me was from a different cultural perspective – so she suggested that I start keeping a journal. And I remember that I did keep it, faithfully, and she read my entries every Friday and was kind enough to critique them kindly. I thought she was being nice but now I think she was trying to teach me the tool I use to this day: to stop and consider my situation and then think and craft my response to it – which if you take that one step further is Plot.

Which took me to my next step when I started my first novel. I was in a terrible situation – flat broke and stuck in a job I loathed. I had also just completed another move from Texas to Pennsylvania so there was the cultural dislocation to deal with again, too. I was thirty years old and I didn’t know who I was anymore so I fell back into my old pattern of writing stories because writing was the only thing – the only thing – that made me feel better.

Each and every day when I came home after a day of gearing up and getting it done and trying to dig myself out of the hole I could take myself to a world I was creating that made more sense to me and escape the present reality. The gift was that as I began to change my interior world it overlapped into my reality and I started making significant changes there, too. Which brings me to my present place, standing on the threshold of my second novel and looking around at things that are pretty damn good.

I’d like to put these questions out to the world: what triggered your writing? Was it a kind mentor or a difficult situation? Have you noticed that your reality changes with your writing? Inquiring minds want to know.


Mary said...

Loneliness,moving around a lot as child. Later imitating books I read. Two very important English teachers who mentored me and probably didn't know it.
I went from humor to suspense--which is basically humor without the laughs.

Giggles and Guns

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Mary. That brings up another question. Were you an only child? I wonder how many writers are?

Joyce said...

I'm not an only child--I have three sisters. One of my sisters is 10 years older, one is 7 years older, and the third is 2 years younger.

I was extremely shy. I'm still a little backward, but not anywhere near what I was like as a kid. I never talked to anyone. Even my friends. I wonder now how I even had any!

My joy was in reading everything and anything. (I read Gone With The Wind when I was 10 or 11.) And I've written stories for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite assignments in grade school was when we had to write our autobiographies, but continue them until the year 2000. It was great! The assignment, I mean, not my writing.

Gina said...

Martha -
I wasn't an only child, but we moved around a lot before I was in 2nd grade, often living with older relatives, and I always felt alienated from other children my own age. My Aunt Ruth started buying me books when I was very young - I read my first full length novel (Black Beauty) when I was in 2nd grade - and I started writing shortly thereafter, mostly stories about horses, as well as keeping a journal of my very boring life. As the oldest child with working parents, I had to stay home all the time to watch my younger brothers so I spent a lot of time writing and making up stories.

Laurissa said...

I'm not an only child, I'm one of six. We did move often though and by the time I was 11, my family had moved five times, and I attended five different school districts. We then moved again when I was in high school. So books became my friends.

I wrote my first mystery when I was 9. I recently came across it in a box of stuff that I had kept. So I guess I've always been interested in writing mysteries.

Annette said...

I wasn't a true only child, but my only sibling is my brother who is 16 years older than I am. So he was away at college and then got married when I was 6, so, yeah, in a sense I was.

I always say my first writing implement was a crayon and that's true. I read everything I could get my hands on and wrote constantly. I always had a story playing out in my head. I think my mom was worried about me back then, with my imaginary friends and the stories I kept making up! But it was how I entertained myself.

Gina said...

I just remembered that my mother used to make up bedtime stories when I was really little. Maybe that clued me in to the concept that stories didn't have to come from outside sources - you could make them up yourself!

Martha Reed said...

So, were we born writers or did we learn it as a survival mechanism? (Making sense of a confusing world)?

Joyce said...

I think it's both. Everyone is born with certain talents, but not everyone uses what God has given them. That talent or ability must be nurtured, whether by outside forces or within ourselves.

ramona said...

Martha, some people might say we write because we are masochists. Not me, of course. [smile]

I like your making sense of a confusing world idea. I also think control is an allure. In fiction, the writer runs the show. How many times do mystery writers revel in killing off a mean boss/cheating spouse/obnoxious neighbor in a story? You can't do that IRL. Well, you can, but I wouldn't advise it.

Jennie Bentley said...

I'm like Annette: not an only child, but raised like one. I have brothers who are 15 and 18 years older. And I can't remember a time I didn't write. It was mostly just reordering the world around me to the way I wanted it to be, though. I couldn't get the high school heartthrob in real life, but by gum, I could have him any way I wanted when I was writing!

As for the person who made me start writing professionally, that was the brilliant Tasha Alexander, who told me that if she could get published, I could get published.