Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Novel Idea

I love words. No, it's more than that: I love language. I love the way words sound, flow, and interact. I love what they do when they meet and I love how the whole dynamic changes again with just a tiny tweak to spelling or punctuation. My favorite jokes involve multiple languages; my favorite limerick includes five. Wonderful combinations of words excite me as much as the discovery of an unexpected fossil does an archaeologist. And I'm aware that my obsession is just as baffling to others.

So that's who I am: a language geek. I work as an editor, but I nearly didn't get the job because I admitted I'd rather write. Hey, who wouldn't? But mostly, it doesn't pay. I just needed the steady income to support my 10-paragraph-a-day habit. Surely someday I'd make that big break into the other side of publishing.

Then I went to a lecture by some big-shot longtime editor, who made one of the scariest statements I've heard: You can't be both a great writer and a great editor; at best, you'll only be one or the other. Maybe I shouldn't have taken it so seriously, but that one sentence totally deflated my ego. Wasn't I a darn good editor? I mean, it outrages me when people abuse the English language; I spend my day rescuing poor, traumatized words from the muck and filth that people call writing these days. Maybe I just wasn't a very good writer. Let me tell you how bad that thought felt. I gave up even trying for a long while, and life got very dark.

I did pull out of it a bit when I decided I could live with not being a great editor. Heh. Eventually, I dug up a writers group and joined with such enthusiasm I think I scared half the membership away. But I had an excuse to write, and I did. And I had people telling me how great I was at it, although I think they were just being nice... or possibly uninformed. I even started the second chapter of my cheesy adventure novel.

But when Son 3 of 3 was born, I discovered exactly what my limits were: 2 kids, especially boys. Terrific. Heck with the instruction manual, why don't these things come with warning labels?! So, fine. Plenty to write about, but no time and no brainpower. Push it to the back of the pile, wait for a better "place" in my life. Sure. But I kept up my pretense (call it a hope, if it makes you feel better) that someday, someday, I'd get my stuff out there, people would love it, and I'd be an author, not "just a writer."

Then a couple of things changed my attitude. First, my awesome friend Sheri died at the age of 35, and I got this overwhelming feeling of urgency to not put off the things I wanted to do in my life. The second thing was less dramatic. With my Christmas money this year, I did what I always do: I bought books about writing. I'd never heard of the authors, and I wasn't sure whether the books were any good, but I bought them anyway because that's who I am. They were good. Particularly Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's Pen on Fire: a busy woman's guide to igniting the writer within ( Fun exercises, lots of insights, sympathy (but not too much), real-life practical help.

When I got to the chapter titled "Celebrate your otherness," though, the doubts returned. I didn't remember really feeling all that different from, say, the rest of my family. I don't think I ever considered myself a "writer" when I was young, and again I started to wonder whether I really was. I pondered over the whole idea of "otherness" with an increasing despair. Then it hit me that all those times I'd tell my mom what had happened to me during the day or describe my social life or really anything at all to her, she'd say I was such a complainer, and I'd feel so let down that she didn't understand-- THAT was the otherness. I wasn't really complaining, at least I didn't mean to be. I was telling a story. I was relating a dramatic narrative, complete with thoughts, feelings, dialogue, pacing, setting, detail-- I was dramatizing. To her, it seemed that I just loved to complain, but I was carried away in conflict and characterization. I hate the word "epiphany" (it rhymes with Tiffany), but all of a sudden, sitting in one of those interminable meetings at work, I realized what my "otherness" was and, as a corollary, gave myself permission to be a writer.

And the dam broke. I can't stop writing. The plot of a mystery novel sprang fully formed from my head this morning. Just like they say, in that half-awake state first thing as you're opening your eyes, you know the one-- it sounds like a horrible cliche. I mean, usually, when you wake up thinking that dream you had will make a great plot for a story, don't you find that as you get more aware, your plot makes less and less sense? Maybe it's just me. Well, today, the real thing hit: inspiration. And because I tend to think the dream-to-text idea is pretty bogus, I didn't have a notebook or pencil next to the bed. I had to rummage all over the house to find those simple writing implements, and you know what? The idea was still with me, and it was still a good one. And I'm writing.

1 comment:

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

I am absolutely jazzed that my book inspired you to let it rip. So very glad. Thanks for writing about it,
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett