I’ve noticed that writers’ magazines invariably have at least one article per issue offering advice to help writers do what they say they want to do: write. Isn’t it funny that we have this strong desire within us, a soul-driven knowledge that writing is what we are meant to do with this life, yet we must be coaxed and cajoled and prodded into doing it?
This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to writers. There are painters who don’t paint, sculptors who don’t sculpt, and musicians who don’t play. Everyone has dreams that speak to them in the quiet times, politely tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “Hello, remember me? I’m still here.” But day after day can go by in which we choose to ignore them, bristling slightly as we reply, “I haven’t forgotten you, but I’m busy with other things right now.”
There are the real logistical obstacles: jobs, families, illness and any number of life’s demands. But we also know there are people who manage to write – despite the job, despite the kids, despite the flu. I mean, didn’t Danielle Steele have something like seven kids while she wrote her first books? And I recently heard of a bedridden woman who can only write while lying on her back, hanging off the edge of her bed. People like that can make you feel really guilty.
Then there are those more subtle psychological issues at play too. All that “fear of failure” and “fear of success” stuff. And the very real fear that when we sit down to write we’ll discover that we actually haven’t got much to say that anyone will really care about. Or the fear that, although we have something extremely useful to say, we will not be able to find the words to say it as eloquently and elegantly on paper as we hear it in our heads. Sigh.
I knew I wanted to be a writer, should be a writer, when I was about eight or nine years old. It wasn’t because I had already shown great talent and promise, it was simply something that I “knew”. I can’t explain why I knew it, I just did. Yet for the longest time, I did very little with that knowledge, mainly because I felt I had nothing valuable to say. I was the victim of a happy childhood – the cruelest blow for an aspiring writer. There were no traumatic events, no major dramas. At least not on a scale that I recognized as story-worthy. So years went by in which I chose to fulfill other dreams – dreams of romance, financial security, lots of nice stuff, and tropical vacations. The Writing Dream sighed, went to the back of the Dream Line, sat down on the couch and waited.
After many years of letting all those other dreams take precedence, I finally let the Writing Dream come to the front of the line. It was more or less a case of “been there, done that,” with everything else. I’d found that, while real and valid and important to me in their own rights, the other dreams were not sustaining or fulfilling in a lasting way. And it was only at this point, having lived much and accomplished much in other aspects of life – success and failure, joy and heartbreak, rejection and acceptance, that I was finally able to start putting things together.
When I was young, I saw my grandmother only as a wicked witch whose emotional eruptions threatened to spoil every family occasion. Now I can see her as a character in her own life story, a story that somehow led her to become the Drama Queen we had known. There’s a story there. I had seen my Aunt Kay, with her gigantic, fleshy face, Bozo-the-Clown red hair and strong Jewish accent, as a kind-hearted embarrassment. Now I see her as a heroine who escaped from Austria during World War II. There’s a story there. I am finally able to see the places I’ve lived in and visited as story settings, to envision the people I’ve known as rich characters, and to understand that there are indeed thousands and thousands of stories in the simple events of everyday life.
There are people who, from a very young age, can see the stories and tell them. I wasn’t one of those people. I was a gatherer. I observed and gathered for many years before I was able to see what I had, before I could put things together and figure out what to do with it all. I like to think of it now as an extremely long gestation period. I’ve stopped berating myself for all the years in which I did things other than write. I just wasn’t ready to bloom yet. And now what I think is this: Everyone is different. Some people bloom early. Some people bloom later. Some lucky people bloom all the way along. It really doesn’t matter when you bloom, it only matters that you do.