I was eleven when I sat down to pen my first novel, and it all went uphill from there.
I thought they made novels – those fat, crooked letters, pencilled onto the pages of a stack of exercise books. I wrote them painstakingly, correcting all the grammatical errors my pre-high-school brain could catch. I divided them into chapters.
I must have written four or five. They dealt with a wide array of themes, and had such a variation of settings and genres. There was the one about a farm girl in nineteenth century America, and her growing pains. Another chronicled the life of a handicapped girl who became an Olympic swimmer (and got a mischievous, but really sweet boyfriend along the way). There was even one on the Spanish Civil War, complete with a title – “Peace on the Horizon” – about a terrified soldier, his cousin who was actually a Communist spy, and a thwarted violinist who tried to live his dreams vicariously through his adopted daughter.
I would later realise these were actually short stories, with ten … at most twenty … thousand words, but that was the beginning of my writing plans.
I didn’t just stick with prose. There was poetry … so much poetry. I dreamt of publishing my poems in an anthology. I wrote scripts and imagined becoming a scriptwriter for a big Hollywood production. I wrote countless blogs, always starting a new one when I deemed the old one too “immature”. I wrote about true beauty, euthanasia, and how the “world was my classroom”.
Then there was that time I was taken by an evangelical zeal and took it as my mission to convert as many people as possible. I began proselytising in my own blog and in comments on other people’s blogs.
You couldn’t accuse me of being lacklustre.
I was fifteen when I started seriously working to improve my writing. I read blogs on the writing craft. I learned effective structure, the importance of “showing” rather than “telling”, the trick to writing sympathetic characters, and how to avoid “head hopping”. I researched the publishing business, down to reading sample query letters and looking up literary agents.
And I wrote … most of them terrible novels, but I wrote anyway. I plotted extensively, with methods like the “snowflake” and “character resumes”. I even made up my own language for a fantasy series!
With serious writing came other duties, like shaping an author brand and maintaining a presence in the blogosphere. I stepped into the world of beta readers and critique partners and writing workshops.
I briefly considered getting a degree in creative writing, but I knew it would be hard to support myself with fiction alone. But that was okay, I told myself. I could become a journalist or a teacher of English or creative writing. I found writing research papers quite fascinating. A living at a university, I thought, immersed in thesis projects, would not be a bad way to live. Finding a lack of free, reliable, and detailed online papers on New Zealand issues, this seemed especially fitting as my future pathway – my destiny.
Writing was my life. So you can imagine what a complete loss I was at when, come my junior year at high school, I was hit by an identity crisis.
I’ve had creative ruts before, and those “I’m a horrible writer who will only ever write garbage” moments, but this was different.
This time, I lost my ambition.
People call this the “teenage identity crisis”. I guess I reached teenagerdom a little later than most? Be it as it may, all I wanted to do was listen to music and watch hilarious YouTube videos. And if I did do something more productive, what was to say it should be writing? Even when people complimented me on my writing skills, I had this niggling feeling in me that said I shouldn’t limit myself. Maybe there was more to life, outside the writing world.
What about sports? Music? Science? Art? Fashion? Cooking? Computer programming?
Why not? The world was my oyster!
Well, I can safely say now that I do love to write. Honestly, the thought of never writing again in my life kind of scares me. Writing helps me to sort out my thoughts. It’s my ultimate way of communication. And it’s an adventure. There is such a world out there that you could never get to explore other than through the imagination. And writing is therapeutic. The mere act of typing or handwriting words – any words – feels good.
Yes, I have gotten some of my writing prowess back. But … I haven’t tried a novel yet. I just don’t have the willpower. And I’ve certainly left off thoughts of publishing.
And you know what? That’s okay.
I’ve come to realise sometimes the best writing is for leisure – short and simple and spontaneous, like a passage in a diary, or a silly poem, or a love letter buried deep in a drawer where no one will ever see it, but … well … you just had to get it out of your heart.
So, here’s my message to all committed writers out there: hats off to you! You are amazing and I know firsthand how much effort and ambition and willpower it takes to be you. But I don’t know if I can count myself amongst your ranks and I don’t know if I want to. Right now, I’m happy where I am.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t be writing – and just maybe … in some future time … in some future life … I will write some of those research papers.