On Writing, Whether You Like It Or Not
Beginning, middle, and end, "Good-bye Hello" was the first story written after the death of my mother. I don't know how it happened. In a haze of confusion and doubts, I found myself stalked by Evanescence's "Hello" on the radio no matter where I went. So, late one night, I cranked the song up as loud as my mother's old stereo could go, louder than I should have considering the children were asleep, and began to write about a young girl waiting for someone on the other side of death. The story isn't based on the song, but the lyrics inspired images that insisted on making their way to paper. Between protracted writing sessions, I met with the lawyer, slept, and cried. A lot. I finished the story three days later, let it sit for nearly two months before I could read it objectively, and gave it the blessing of wings to make the submission rounds.
I'm a writer. What does that mean? Well, Harlan Ellison said it best: "The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer." I began writing when I was eight years old, long, albeit boring, stories that no one had time to listen to so they gave me a pad and pencil and suggested I write them out. In the thirty-plus years since, I've learned, tightened, revised, tightened, and learned some more. I've peeked under rocks, collected laughter at the circus, and held tears in my hands until I could get them home and pour them onto the page. I write, that's what I do, even when I'd rather curl up in a dark corner until the sun burns out. I can't not write. I've struggled with it now and again, but in the end the words win out and I find myself in front of a keyboard, or with pencil and paper in hand, chasing the last word..
When someone tells me "I could write something like that" I say "Go for it!" and wish them the best of luck because, y'see, Harlan Ellison is right. You may have what it takes to start writing, but do you have what it takes to keep writing? Really? Are you sure? Being a writer is as much a job as being a carpenter, hairdresser, firefighter, or waitstaff. A real writer doesn't sit around waiting for ideas to come along; he or she plants but in chair and writes even when life gets in the way. Writes when everyone else goes to the beach, has a family picnic instead of a deadline, would rather watch TV, rakes the yard. Dies. That's it, the big secret of what it takes to be a writer. Write, edit, rinse, repeat. And maybe, just maybe if you're lucky, someone will like the piece enough to take a chance on sharing it with the public.
Are you positive?
Since my mother's death I've written sixty stories, and chaperoned over twenty of those into print. In the end, what matters most isn't the words yet to come, but the words on the page. Writers write. That's all there is to it.
So, take your time, but not forever. I'm working on a new story.
Sandra M. Odell