Not with a pen and paper, or, even better, a computer (God, what I could have done with a computer!) but by sitting my stuffed animals in a circle around me on the floor and telling them a story. They were a very good audience, except for the stuffed dog who kept falling over.
Didn’t matter. I wrote.
Several years later in a different time, I was a young-ish mother who had lost her job and had two children under two on a six-acre spread in a drafty house in the middle of nowhere. My son had a communication handicap, my husband worked and went to school eighty hours a week, and I had no car.
I wrote Harlequin romances, because that’s what I had read through college, and I submitted a couple when I could afford it, using an outdated Writer’s Market and no contacts or common knowledge whatsoever.
Didn’t matter. I wrote.
And still, later, teaching with its pain and glory had been stolen from me. I sat at home, blank and numb with my daughter—the last kid in day care—and tried to rebuild the frame of my life from the shattered boards of my career.
By then, I was writing for Dreamspinner Press, because they’d given me a chance, dammit, had heard my voice, believed in me, and when the rest of my mind was a hapless mess of crossed wires and self-recrimination, the part of me that could write—that opened up and poured words into the universe—still worked like a dream.
Oh, thank you gods, I could write.
Because I am prolific, people assume that the words just come. I always have words, I always have emotions, I always have a story to tell.
Well, yes and no.
There have been periods in my life when I could not write.
My first two pregnancies—there were no words. My third pregnancy, it was all knitting, crocheting, quilting, scrapbooking (for a minute) and craftwork.
My fourth pregnancy we didn’t even have a room for the baby, we had no money, my administrator literally chased me down a hallway as I waddled away from him after a disagreement, and later messed with my class schedule to make it more difficult when I came back from my leave.
Then I could write.
If I have a little bit of personal discomfort, some inconvenience, the first gasp of a wound—all of my effort goes to finding the mental lidocaine to take away the sting. Writing becomes difficult—sometimes, if I allow myself to be weak, it gets impossible.
When I’ve been gutted by a rusty emotional machete, that’s when I go deep into my soul and pull out the thing that has kept me sane my entire life.
The building of worlds, the building of lives, using tiny blocks of words.
This winter I had a moment of profound writing exhaustion. I wrote through it—because I’ve staked my family’s well-being on this livelihood and curling up in a ball of “I don’t wanna” is not an option. But what got me through that moment was pure professionalism—don’t get me wrong. I’d given my word—to my family, to my publisher, to my friends—and I wasn’t going back on it. That project was the writing equivalent of comfort knitting—it was all I could produce at the time.
And then things got worse. Painful, eviscerating—like those other times, saturated with self-doubt of the most insidious kind.
And without warning, I could write again.
It was like falling through the thin layer of self-protective ice. My heartblood gushed, and the well of my soul opened. The stories within—those were the world, my world, the only safe world in creation, built with the insignificant building blocks of my words.
I love writing from this place—my every waking moment is consumed with my characters. I cannot wait to sit down in front of my computer. These are the times when my husband looks at me sideways and says, “I hope that’s a good story, because you are having a hell of a conversation with yourself.”
Of course—I’m writing!
You can tell when I’m writing from the bountiful place. The kids are late to school, I forget to do the laundry, I spend $300 because I lost my car keys in my yarn bag, I don’t respond to e-mail—you know, human stuff. It suffers.
Forget human stuff—I am a god!
Well, sadly no. Not a god. I have to return to my human life eventually.
It’s a tough transition, that drawing from the deep well of soul to the basic nuts and bolts that make us people. The water isn’t nearly as sweet from the refillable plastic bottle on my desk as it is in the deep place where my imaginative building blocks assemble with almost effortless ease.
But resuming my place among the living is a necessary move, if I’m not to wreck my body, my financial situations, and my family relationships. What I need to do in order to make the transition work is remember the most important lessons I’ve taken from the depths of my imagination.
I control my own reality.
Sadly, not the stuff that happens to me but how I react to that stuff--that I can do something about. I do have a say in not being a victim, in recovering, learning, and moving on. In my first teaching assignment I had a day so bad I left school, came home, and pulled the covers over my head, vowing never to return.
My career lasted 18 years—obviously I went back. The place I write from is the same place of strength I drew from to do that. Revisiting this place reminds me that it’s there, and I’m stronger than I think.
If I’m still living and my family is okay, nothing is insurmountable.
There are stakes so much larger than my job. Even if it’s a job I love and worked really hard to make pay for me–as was the case with both teaching and writing. If that well inside me is still flowing, it’s because there is love to keep it going. Never take love for granted. Ever.
Writing is more than a paycheck for me.
One of the things I wrote this summer—nearly 100K of it, with an option to write more—is a work without a home. Yes—I know. I usually have places to send my work, it’s one of the sweet, sweet reassurances of having a publisher I really love. But this work won’t fit easily into my publisher’s mold—the concept for the first book and the books I’d like to follow it is really too big in scope for romance, and it needs a sci-fi or fantasy publisher. This means I have to step outside my comfort zone, relearn my trade, try to market this thing in another place.
This is scary for me—but not as scary as when I wrote from a purely mechanical place. Writing is more than a paycheck for me (although money is nice and pays the bills) and reminding myself that writing is the thing that has always brought me joy—even when my only audience was a gaggle of ratty, often garage sale stuffed animals—is important if I want to keep doing it.
Writing for me has always come from the heart. Sometimes the words stumble—all building blocks have their flaws—and sometimes what looks like the right block in one context is completely wrong in another—but my heart hasn’t changed. I still want to write what is, to me, essentially romance—the genre in which people do the best they can with what they have to make a better world for people they love.
This is a place of joy. If it has become something different, it’s important that I’m reminded of why I started writing in the first place. Because everybody has a place where they connect their soul to the world around them. For some people it’s math, for others it’s art. For some people it’s animals and for others, it’s machines. For pretty much every person there is a physical concrete thing, a thing they can do that taps into the things they think and feel.
My stepmother is never so happy as she is on the back of a horse. My father used to work on cars when his classwork or his job was giving him hell. My daughter pulls out her art paper and draws.
I write. I’m lucky I’ve been able to make that work for me (so, so, so very lucky). If it ever stops working for me that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit doing it.
Ida Pollack wrote romance novels until she was 105 years old. I don’t think she did it because she needed the money. She did it because the world where the rugged older man rescued the ingénue was the place she went to be happy.
If I’m lucky enough to live to 105, I’ll probably still live in the world where mostly working class guys share turbulent first kisses and beat the emotional hell out of each other in the name of working shit out.
If I’m really lucky, it will still be my favorite place to be.