At nine years old, I walked home from school each day to hunch over my wooden desk and furiously write a horror story on the wide-ruled paper of a notepad. I included elements of friendship and love, mystery and adventure, and the haunting images from my too-active imagination. I finished the short tale over a few months, believing it would eventually line the bookshelves with my favorite books at the school library. I tossed it in the garbage the following summer.
Through the next decade, I continued to pen a handful of stories and poems, including my first novel at about 125,000 words. When I was not writing, I was often found roaming through the fields and woods engaging in imaginative play—an ongoing story from day to day—or reading every book I found. No kidding. When I ran out of crime fiction, horror, fantasy, and science fiction novels, I found my mom’s collection of romance novels. Those guys sure had a hard time keeping their shirts on!
When I went to college and earned my graduate degree, I discovered my years of writing and reading separated me from my peers. While many classmates struggled to form sentences and understand grammar, I was receiving recognition for my creative writing and research papers. Even my Spanish teacher demanded my signature before the end of the semester, claiming she knew I would someday be a published author. I did not know what she knew then, nor do I claim to know much today. Yet after nearly 25 years of writing, I have picked up on a few helpful nuggets from my writing journey that I would like to share.
Writing is a Journey
We all know writing is a journey but few of us trust that writing is a journey. I believed early on that I would beat the odds and find success early in my writing career by employing hard work, a positive attitude, and a bit of luck. I came out of high school feeling invincible—even though I swore I was not—ready to run to Mordor like Frodo Baggins and reap the reward of a peaceful life, enjoying the company of friends and family. However, like Frodo, I discovered I did not know the way to Mordor. Worse yet, no one did.
Writing became a path of endless discovery, where every written word was an excursion leading to the next phase of the overall journey. People always ask why I write stories. The answer has evolved over the years. I have written for the sake of adventure, to process emotions, to leave something behind, to understand the world around me, to chronicle my experiences, etc. Why I write today is not why I will write tomorrow. In the same breath, I have come to understand that my journey in writing will never be complete. My youthful aspirations of writing a bestseller and then living in tranquility was misplaced. In fact, my last words will likely be in the vein of, “Hand me a pen. I have one more thing to say.”
To Write is to be Vulnerable
A story gives insight into a writer’s thoughts on any given issue, their perception of the world, or even a glimpse into their own psyche. A piece of themselves, conscious or unconscious, is infinitely exhibited in their book to be potentially dissected and analyzed by generation after generation. They have opened themselves to be critiqued and criticized, and oftentimes have no opportunity to defend their position or their expression beyond the original manuscript. If that is not enough, this is only the aftermath of the author releasing their story to the world. Prior to publication, a writer will have their book examined by early draft readers, editors, and pre-release reviewers, each offering their own various suggestions for improving the story.
By and by, writing a book requires a writer to be susceptible to the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of others without compromise. In writing communities, you will often hear that you need to have thick skin to be a writer. You also need to be receptive, patient, and cognizant of the difference between good advice and writer bias. In many instances, being a writer is a one-way road, where a writer bleeds onto the pages and…that’s it. They just bleed onto the pages.
Writing Will Change You
I have said for years that every person would benefit from writing a book. I do not think everyone needs to publish a book, but writing a book from beginning to end is a life-altering experience. We could explore the impact of being vulnerable with readers or editors or other sociological factors that impress on a writer, but this is not what I am referencing. Whether you write a story based on an experience or you have an imaginative tale to tell, you will not be the same after finishing a book. Writing is a way to process emotions and thoughts; it is a journey within a journey. Any writer discovers that the story they tell will reveal new insights and, subsequently, perspectives around the human experience and the part they play in their own real-life adventure. Whether it be interpersonal relationships, our internal musings, or the complexities of the cosmos, writers cannot evade the multiple revelations that emerge when writing a book. Finish a book and you might never look at the world the same.
Writing Well Demands Mentorship
Despite all the affirmations I received from teachers, friends and family, and colleagues, I always had something more to learn. Refusing to heed the advice of writers who were more prolific than myself caused me to stumble for years. I could speak for hours about how the early drafts were dotted with generic plots, dull characters, and poor word choice. After a decade and deleting almost a million words of useless text, I finally succumbed to imprisoning my pride so I might listen to the guidance of published writers. Now, as a rule, I seek out mentors wherever I can for critique and their knowledge. Of course, this does not simply apply to writing. Finding a guru for any interest, or even to live your life fully, will benefit your experience.