Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Drive to Write

If you're waiting with eager anticipation for a plot summary of what the heck The Brightest Night is all about, you're still not getting one. Sorry to disappoint folks, but I have something else on my mind. I want to talk about what is driving me to pursue my project of editing and writing today (and also stroke my ego a little bit, because who doesn't like stroking their ego?).

The easiest way to do this, I think, is to tell a story. The story of my life as an amateur author.

All children tell stories when they're engaging in imaginative play, even if the stories are as simple as Barbie and Ken are going shopping at the mall, and Ken is going to buy a pretty pink skirt to wear to his friend Nancy's birthday party, but Barbie's wearing a blue dress, leading to an argument over colors.  There's character, there's plot, there's conflict. As we grow up, a lot of people stop using that part of themselves, that inner storyteller, and lose that ability.

I didn't. Somewhere, buried away so that no one will ever see them, are notebooks of half-finished stories I wrote as a child, the characters all being wolves or other animals, because it was easy to understand their motivations. Food, shelter, family. I'm pretty sure if I ever read any of them again I will want to burn them all.  Then my horizons expanded, and I started to create human character, that had some magical ability or went on grand fantastical adventures. Escapism has always been my standard writing and reading fare.

Somewhere in my teenage years I got into roleplaying. Creating characters, having them interact with other character, having them grow and change and even die, changed the way I wrote for myself. Stories became more complex, and I will freely admit, more dark. I think the time I spent roleplaying taught me how to be a better writer, and I am glad for all the wonderful people I encountered. Somewhere in these teenage years, though, I made the decision that I would not pursue writing as a professional career, because the idea was too scary to contemplate, and so I found a back-up plan.

Then university happened. I think the biggest change that happened was that I stopped reading for pleasure as much, because I was suddenly confronted with massive amounts of required reading. I learned a lot about theories, literature, history and politics, and while I began to draw more than write, I feel like all this soaked up knowledge began to flesh out my writing with details that added complexity, and I began to think about themes and meanings to my work. In the two final years of my undergraduate degree, I completed two NaNoWriMo novels, one which is so twisty I don't want to touch it, and the other one is The Brightest Night, the novel I am currently editing and expanding.

There's one moment that I will remember for many years to come, in the last semester of my undergrad. I was taking a course on ethics in international relations (which is actually fabulous and fascinating), and had gone to see my prof to run my final paper idea past him. He was really excited about my topic, and ended up giving me an impromptu pep-talk. I don't know why, but I will be eternally grateful for it. The sentence that sticks out most to me was when he said, "You have something important to say, so say it."

Since then, I have graduated with a shiny piece of paper, moved across the country, and gone through my first year of a Master's program. I moved to writing poetry, because it was quick and easy and I wanted to expand my writing horizons away from essays without having much time to invest. I attempted a third go at NaNoWriMo, but unfortunately found that I couldn't complete it and keep up with my demanding school work. I quit.

This brings us to the present. I applied for co-op positions, a lot of them, pouring time and energy into my job hunt. I got five interviews. None of them hired me. I was feeling pretty dejected, contemplating the fact that I had no job for the summer, when one of the people who interviewed me called me up to give me feedback. She did the usual feedback structure of good-to improve-good, and one of the things that struck me was that she told me, "I'm sure you've been told this before, but you write beautifully."

I found that hilarious, as the only writing sample she had from me was a cover letter  and a two-paragraph biography and explanation as to why I wanted to work for them including such lovely sentiments as 'wanting to make a difference'. I ruminated on this for a long time, and realized two things: if I could impress a stranger with my prose while writing on the most mundane subject ever, I could impress a stranger while writing fiction, and I owed it to myself to not take this jobless summer as a bad thing. It was an opportunity. I haven't had a free summer since I was sixteen, working summers to the point where I had no energy for anything else. My sudden free time, I realized, is a gift.

So my inspiration, my drive, is to make the most of this gift of time (and maybe rub it into the face of all the people who didn't want to hire me). That's why I'm editing and writing. It's why I'm doing it now.

What drives you?

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