Saturday, September 04, 2010

This Writing Thing: The Beginning

Before November 2001, I hadn't written a scrap of fiction since college days. I'd taken one course on writing fiction in order to take a class with Bernie in it (we thought that would make it more likely for us to actually get to class), and when that class was done, I was tremendously relieved.

Over the ensuing years, I read a lot and painted a little; then in the 80's got a bug in my ear about writing religious education courses for teens and adults. I wrote a teachers' manual -- one that was in use several years after I left that job, which would be flattering if they had any idea at all that I was the one who wrote it. I believe they simply used it because they had no idea how to write a new one.

For the next six years, the only things I wrote were letters and emails. I painted not at all; I didn't sew or draw. My garden was my canvas, and that was enough.

Then came October of 2001, and the e-mail from Alex with a link to NaNoWriMo. She was going to take the challenge and try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. "Ma," she wrote, "you have got to try this!"

How to describe the feeling with which I recoiled? A boiling fear immediately surged through me, and I knew I wouldn't take the challenge. Fear of failure, fear of losing, fear of looking like a stupid hack with no imagination at all ... fear of trying something new and unexpected.

The fear was an old familiar thing, a hangover from something in my early twenties that had surfaced bit by bit: if what you do doesn't come out perfect, then what? People won't respect you, they won't buy the product, they'll stop thinking you're good at what you do, they'll pity you for your inferior effort ... That old familiar fear had put to a complete end drawing just for the fun of it; stomped to death my painting, squelched my singing. Nothing made me feel less like completing a project than having someone pause, have a look, and say, "Wow, that's really coming along!" God, then what if I spoiled it? If I tried to write a story, someone might read it and say, "Gee, Sand, I never knew just how much of a mush-brained incompetent you were." So I turned my back on the challenge.

No one would ever have to read what I wrote, though. That was the part of the deal that kept NaNoWriMo in the back of my mind. No one would have to see if I was stupid, or untalented, or banal. After all, I could hit Control + A for All + Delete at any time. Presto! Gone as though it never existed!

Because Bernie worked second shift, he was gone from about 3 pm until 2 am ... that meant that he wouldn't be there to peek over my shoulder at the computer. Alex and her husband lived in Modesto at the time, so they wouldn't be popping in unexpectedly to find me writing my pathetic little attempt, and the dogs wouldn't care if I wrote total trash, so long as I fed them.

A secret vice. A secret game. A secret club, just for me ... maybe it was worth a try.

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