It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that once someone has decided to consider themselves a writer—whether or not they're any good, whether or not they have any faith in their talent—their life as a casual observer is over.
When I was in early elementary school, I read books by the truckload. I've never been a quick reader, but at least when I was a kid, enjoying books came easy—all a book had to do to make me happy was have characters, a plot, and a puppy on the front cover. I don't remember most of the books I read before sixth grade, probably because they were all about the same, both in my mind, and on the page.
But I do remember the fateful day in sixth grade, during free-reading hour, when I took my book (some nameless member of that series with the adventurous alliteration…Dolphins after Daybreak, or whatever) up to my teacher and pointed to line about halfway down the page.
"Mrs. Rydquist," I said (yeah…that was a mouthful for a kid with a lisp and remedial rubber bands in her mouth) "what does this word mean?"
She picked her glasses up off her chest where they had been resting on her considerable bosom and slid them up the bridge of her nose. "Connectio…Oh, oh, that's just a typo, Mary. The word is supposed to be 'connection,' but you see, they've accidentally left the 'n' off." She smiled at me and let her glasses fall back onto their king-sized bed before going back to stapling things to the bulletin board.
In that moment, the core of my very humanity was rocked. Books could have mistakes?
Very soon after that, I began seeing the mistakes everywhere; it started, of course, with spelling and grammar, simple things that irked me, but didn't necessarily deter me from continuing to read the book. But then, in the summer after seventh grade when I started writing my first book, things began to go downhill.
Once I started to get a taste of the sort of choices authors have when writing books or short stories or poems or what have you, I started noticing every choice that an author made that I didn't like. This character should have been a boy, this bit of dialogue is about three chapters too early, this expository paragraph is totally contrived and I hate it! I hate it all!
Alright, so "hate" is a strong word. Nevertheless, after I became a writer, enjoying stories became a chore. I entered in to every reading wary of the potential monsters of mediocrity that I might face there, knowing that any second, the author would make a glaring mistake that would render the story impassible to my perfectionist brain. Gone were the days when I could sit down with a book and plow through it, not noticing the places where the story deviated from my ideals.
Thankfully, my "ideals" are not perched so high in the clouds as to keep me from reading anything but Encyclopedias for the rest of my life. But there have been whole series I've had to stop reading halfway through because of a crippling frustration that the author should have written some key element differently. The Halfblood Chronicles by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, for one. The Dune Saga, for another. Books that I wanted to enjoy, stories I found fascinating, but enjoyment and fascination that was cut short…simply because I am a writer. It's not a hat I can put on and take off on a whim. It's something I always am, for better or worse.
The loss of my ability to casually read of book and stories (and watch movies, for that matter) was not all that my life as a writer took away from me either. Since taking up the bardic pen, I've had to give up the peace and quiet of good old American individualism, as well. Suddenly every person I meet is a character, every bit of odd rubbish I see on the ground has an epic behind it, and every crazy dream I have I have after eating too much pork for dinner needs to be written down before it's lost to the ages, because dammit, it was inspiring, and that shit doesn't grow on trees.
Has this ever happened to you: Your friend (probably only kind of your friend…no one really close) is going through a messy break-up, or maybe there's an illness in the family, or maybe they're looking for a new job. You know there are questions you shouldn't ask—"Do you know how many times he's had sex with her, or is it just a ballpark estimate?" or "Will your aunt have to sell drugs to pay the medical bills?" or "Are you quitting because you're a racist and your old boss was Mexican?"—but a huge part of you is dying to ask so bad, because you're sure there's a good story there.
Or even more awkward, something bad is happening to you—your ex boyfriend from high school tells you he still loves you, even though you're already dating someone, and you realize you have feelings for both of them, or maybe you find out your brother really was adopted, just like you'd been teasing him for twenty years—and, in order to sort out your thoughts or just because you're a venter, you write about it. But the thing you write develops from a static memoir into exciting fiction, and you can't let go of the story, even though you know you're offending all of your friends and family by writing it.
Maybe I'm alone in this. My [non-writer] friends have often told me that I get too involved in movies and books and in the stuff I write, that it doesn't get this messy for anyone else they know. And the funny thing is that I really wouldn't want it any other way. I love how much energy I can get from watching a good film, or how fired up I get after a really bad one. I love how, when I go back and read those really long venting stories, I get excited and confused all over again, like I can relive parts of my life. I've always thought that the times I've most felt like a writer were the times I've most felt alive.
What about you?
When has being a writer really sucked for you?
If you could snag the copyrights to any story—book, movie, short story, poem, etc.—what would it be, and what would you do to it?
Do you have any journal entries that turned into stories you couldn't put down? What are you doing with those stories now?
Have a great week!