I felt in a reflective mood this evening, so I decided to bring my laptop up to my room, play Mumford & Sons and Halsey, and throw words the computer screen until something started to make sense.
I’m taking a short story writing class this spring, taught by Eugene Stickland. So far it’s more discussing thoughts about writing than learning much about improving my writing, but it has made me think.
For me, and for many of the people in the room, writing came to us at a time when we needed an answer, a hope, something. Eugene’s brother had died when he was eleven and he started writing. One of the students, Josh, told us how his mother had died and that is why he searches for comedy in fiction – ‘why does everyone have to take it [life, I suppose] so damn seriously?’ seems to be his motto. I find it interesting how tragedy can move people in different ways – some go down a dark road, some search for the light. I admire Josh for how earnestly he strives for light, but that isn’t quite the road I went down.
I suppose I should speak a little bit about my own journey. Much of this is going to be details about my life not many know, still much will be left unspoken – either because I can’t find the words, or it’s not my place to tell of it.
When I was eight years old and my little sister had just been born, I came across a pad of stiff orange paper. I made a few drawings – two girls making a snowman, having dinner together, in the tub, doing friend stuff. And then I wrote a story about two friends having a good time together playing in the snow and having a sleepover.
That was the beginning of my Molly stories. I kept writing stories about Molly and her friend Sarah (adding another friend or two as the stories went on), up to when I was fourteen, even. Molly went to the mall, to camp, defeated bullies with a Girl Power Gang, and even went to Europe (using some guide books about different countries – such as Wales). I eventually grew out of Molly (or did I? can you ever leave the children of your mind behind?), but still I continued to write, on and off. For example, there was a fantasy story I wrote for school, for which I later wrote a sequel.
One of my most memorable story ideas was the beginnings of a novel that I started when I was fourteen – I called it Fellowship of the Necklace for lack of a title (I am so bad at titles – you don’t even know), but it really was that. After watching The Lord of the Rings films, I had my first crush on Frodo Baggins. The crush became so intense that fourteen-year-old me felt horribly ashamed and started a story about a girl who intensely loved Frodo – although Marianne Roberts admittedly had it much worse than I did. Marianne was selling off her family heirlooms, when Mr. Hertz (the pawnbroker) found a powerful necklace. I don’t think I need to go much further… it had a lot of similarities to my favourite novel by Tolkien (first fanfiction???), but it also became very dear to me. I doubt I’ll ever finish it, but I put a lot of my heart and soul into those couple dozen chapters. I still remember most of my plot ideas. When I look back at FOTN, I’m actually shocked because I foreshadowed a whole bunch of things that would later happen in my life. (Okay, actually I’m a little spooked right now, but that wasn’t the point of this blog post so I’m going to leave this story behind – although this is something I’m going to have to muse over.)
Writing slowed down going into high school – partly because of school, partly because I felt discouraged since I always ran out of steam and never finished any novels. I still desperately wanted to publish a novel, adding a chapter onto FOTN once in a while, dabbling in some role playing games. In university, I started a Supernatural fanfiction writing blog with a good friend of mine – lots of romance, some pieces I’m not too sad about calling my own (like this piece). (I even wrote a vampire piece… oh man what was I thinking? Oh wait, I remember. I was really obsessed with the A Little Less Sixteen Candles music video.) But that was really the extent.
Then, last summer (Summer 2015), I had my own little tragedy. My boyfriend of a few months had a psychotic episode. He went to the hospital. I visited him (it was one of the scariest things I ever did in my entire life – I hate hospitals with a passion now). We continued our relationship, but he sunk into deep depression. I started spiralling into my own depression. I was a top student before – now I stopped paying attention in class and did maybe half of the readings that was needed for the semester. I didn’t study for a Latin exam and I failed it (managing to scrape through in the class itself, though barely). My boyfriend and I had some struggles with purity and fell a little. I became terrified of the male sex, I didn’t trust anyone. I lived in a constant state of fear. I thought God didn’t want anything more to do with me. I thought that if anyone knew the real me, they would be disgusted and horrified.
It was during this time that writing came back to me. It was actually because I went to a meeting of the Literary Guild on my college campus which was presided by – surprise! – Eugene. He talked about writing and keeping a journal. I listened to some of my peers’ poetry. I was suddenly inspired. I had never had much success keeping a journal, but I started again. I wouldn’t talk much about the day’s events, unless it was complaining, but it helped get some of my frustrations out. I started writing again – mostly poetry, at first, if it could be called that (it was more a garbled mess of words, a plea for aid in my distress). Just like back when I was fourteen, I started a novel about a girl who was in my situation, just worse. (I’m actually considering continuing this one.) This story uses some inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, which I became obsessed with around the time I was obsessed with depression, mental illness, and Pete Wentz, vainly trying to find an answer to my own problems.
It helped. A lot. And I’ve kept writing – not every day, perhaps, but pretty often. I started reading again. I’m not entirely recovered from everything that’s happened in my life over the last nine months… but I’m happier – not only happier than I was depressed and thought that I was a disappointment to everyone, including God, but I would dare to say that I’m happier than I was in high school. And why is that? Because I’ve found a piece of me that I was missing. I need to read. And I need to write – not because I want to, as a friend of mine once said, but because I have to. One of my favourite quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird is “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” The same holds for writing, even more so, I would add. For me, writing is not perhaps a desperate struggle for life that some speak about. But I write in my journal because I have to get the words out, otherwise they’ll scramble around in my brain and kick and fight and punch each other until the blood begins to spill and I began to experience a kind of frenzy a psychologist might describe as ‘confusion’ or ‘frustration’ or sometimes even ‘depression.’ I have to get the words out, I have to.
One of my biggest frustrations still is the fact that I have all these writer friends who have published books and I am still here trying to string a bunch of words together to make a coherent sentence (as it is, I’m unsure if any part of this entire blog post makes sense). Eugene has us reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – and I absolutely love it because it makes so much sense. She speaks about the struggles of being a writer – how one sits at the computer trying to think of something to say and having panic attacks because it seems impossible. That if anyone saw your first drafts, they’d probably question your sanity. Reading Lamott’s book is like meeting an old friend I never realized I knew. However, one of the most important parts of her book that I’ve discovered so far is — you don’t have to be published to be a writer. It matters that you get the words down for you, even if no one is ever going to see that. And, even though it makes me a little sad, it also makes sense. I do feel a sense of peace when I get words down, especially if it is on paper, not a Word document. And while I really do want to become published – what matters now is honing my abilities.
So I’m going to keep writing, writing because it is a vital part of me. There’s a saying that you never realize how important something is until you’ve lost it. I never realized how important writing was to me until I got it back. Writing is something I have to do – a calling, even. And while I may do it horribly, you may be sure I’m going to continue doing it.
Anna is a student at St. Mary’s University who has lived in the same part of the world all her life. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor in English and is on spring break (mostly). Anna has a problem starting projects and taking forever to finish them – for example, she is “reading” City of Glass and Dante’s Inferno at the same time (yeah, right). She has finished neither her next assignment (an interview with Laura Hollis from the Gothic novella Carmilla) nor her glass of water sitting on her dresser top. But, hey, at least she finally updated her blog and is enjoying “Colors” by Halsey (the music video made her laugh).