Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Lifetime Sentenced to Hard Labor

Writing is hard work. Don’t let anybody tell you different. When we pick up a book, whether it is an old favorite or a new discovery, ideas and images flow from the words on the page to our minds so effortlessly. But I’ve learned something. They didn’t get on the page without effort.
Stephen King says writing is like telepathy; an image or idea born in one mind and transferred to another through words. Well, Stephen, that’s easy for you to say!
So, when did this life of hard literary labor start for me? And what really IS the beginning of my story? And, by the way, don’t use the word ‘really’ too much! See? It’s enough to make a writer crazy!
When I was a child, so young that I don’t remember I had three clowns as imaginary friends. Not so very unusual until the day I announced to my mother that all three had been shot. That was the end of the clowns and the beginning of my life-long fascination with stories that are, shall we say, not exactly mainstream.
My first attempt at writing anything was a puppet play, written, produced and directed by me in the second grade that had a decidedly “Twilight Zone” content. Since then, I’ve been writing.
I’ve had the good fortune to have three stage plays produced during my adult life and one of those has been published. Of course, someone would actually have to BUY it from the catalogue in order for me to receive royalties, but, hey, it’s out there anyway.
About a year ago I found this writer’s group. We are a diverse group of what I like to think of as very talented people. What a great thing this has been. My fellow laborers, um, I mean writers, have critiqued, encouraged, and generally pushed me forward in my efforts.
We are presently working on an anthology of collected short stories and poems called “Split”. The theme of the stories is dichotomies, or opposites. I have chosen War/Peace for mine.

Okay, now, I’ve let that little tid-bit sink in. War and Peace. Wow. What a huge subject. Isn’t that the truth? It is because of this, that I have come to learn that writing is such hard work! And to top all that off, I’ve written not one, not two, but four, yes count them FOUR stories for the book that deal with the subject and take characters from one story on to another, beginning with the Civil War and ending with our present War with Iraq.
The first of the quadriliogy has really been a huge challenge to me, and the editing, changing, re-writing has been very public with the group. They have had to suffer along with me as I struggled with what the story was really about, whose point of view it was and what details were nice, but, Theresa, you might not need this in order to tell the story.
What a great bunch of fellow writers. If they groaned about having to read yet another version of it, they did it quietly and amongst themselves. And, I have learned so much about writing and about myself as a writer, which brings me to another story that ties in with this. (I promise)

I grew up in Kansas, a farming state, and way back then a kid could get a driver’s license at the age of fourteen. The summer I was that age, I took driver’s ed classes. We had morning classroom study and one hour of driving in the afternoons. Each of the four students in the car got fifteen minutes to rip and tear around the dirt roads out in the country.
The classroom work was a snap, and I watched other people driving and it looked easy. But – the actual driving part was terrifying. Lucky for the townspeople there weren’t any freeways or even one-way streets in town, because my considerable lack of driving ability was unleashed on the unsuspecting population.
When the course was over, we were to receive our permits. Coach Gilman called each of us up to his desk. He had a long, sad face most of the time anyway, so I wasn’t particularly alarmed when he turned his big, droopy eyes my way. What followed next has stayed with me for the rest of my life.
“Theresa,” he said slowly. “You are a really bad driver.” My heart sank, not to mention how embarrassed I felt in front of the entire freshman class. “But, I’m giving you your permit anyway. Only,” and he stressed ‘only’, “because without it, you won’t be able to drive and the only way you’re going to get any better is to practice.”

See? I told you this little side story had relevance. Reading about writing is easy, reading a book someone else wrote is easy, but the actual process of writing a book is terrifying and difficult. The only way I can get better as a writer is with practice. It doesn’t come naturally for me and I dare say that it doesn’t come all that naturally for some of the greatest.
Because of joining this writer’s group and because we have decided to put together “Split” something magical has happened to me. I’ve become a real writer and with that a lifelong sentence to the hard labor of writing.


1 comment:

Gary D. said...

Hey Theresa!

I love this post. I realy (uh, there's that word!) sums it up for me. I wish it was as easy as telepathy, but I catch myself every once in a while wondering "what was I thinking?" so I imagine that others would have a hard time understanding my thought process anyway.
Thanks Theresa for your insight. Keep on writting! (And thanks for the warning about your driving skills....uhmmm you get off work at what time of day? Just wondering...)