Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Steps and the Stories

Every writer knows that he or she is just a little bit different than everyone else. For the most part, writers weren’t the popular kids in high school. They weren’t voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” They weren’t on the prom court. They were, for the most part, forgotten and ignored, quiet, blending in with the crowd. They weren’t sure quite how to fit in. They may have said the wrong things at the wrong times and been a bit socially awkward.

Then, one day, their thoughts, hopes, dreams and passions explode onto the pages of a magazine…. or their first novel… or a poem… and suddenly, the world finally recognizes them for the extraordinary people they’ve been all along. The world sits up and takes notice. And finally, the writer gets their moment in the sun- their time to shine. If the writer has the desire and perseverance, that moment will eventually come for every one of them.

I’ve loved to write for as long as I’ve known how. I love to tell stories- my stories, fiction stories, other people’s stories. My high school English teacher- you know, the tall, handsome, brooding man who makes the jailbait swoon and pretend they are, like, so deep- used to say, “We all have stories. Stories are all we have.”

The older I got, the more that made sense. What is life, but a series of moments? At the end of our lives, all we will have are the stories of the people we were and the things we did. Each of us has them, and they’re all different. People love to experience the stories, but sometimes it’s just as much fun to tell them, isn’t it? And that’s what I want to do with my life. I want to tell stories. Some may think that’s insignificant. I happen to think it’s awesome.

But it wasn’t until this year that I actually decided to tell every voice inside my head to shut the hell up so I could actually live this dream. Just like every writer knows he or she is different, every writer also hears a lot of negativity.
“Writers don’t make any money.”
“If you want to write, that’s fine, but you’d better have a job that pays the bills.”
“Writing isn’t a real job.”

Who hasn’t heard those gems? I heard them all, and more. For eight years after I left high school, I was confused. I knew I wanted to write. I also knew, deep down, mainstream journalism wasn’t for me. I’m too stubborn for the agenda-setting, depressing, spoon-fed news stories you see on TV and read in the almost extinct newspapers. So after college, I took some sales jobs because I believed I could make good money. I was lured in by the promise of high commissions and residual income.

Of course, I learned the hard lesson every adult learns eventually: when you’re not passionate about something, you won’t be happy doing it. I’m not going to lie- I like having money, so the thought of being poor made me re-think being a writer. I’m actually not an overly materialistic person (I know, I'm surprised too). I just like not having to worry if I have money for food or bills. I like being able to have nights out with my girls and dates with my husband without worrying about the tab. But most of all- I like money for traveling. Next to my husband, travel is the great love of my life. Traveling provides us with new experiences- new stories. And it all comes down to the stories.

Since last summer, when I decided to pursue my dream of writing as a career, I’ve felt as if my life has been a series of small steps. This is an entirely new experience for me- steps in the right direction. I took online writing classes through a local college- step. I sent out my first few rounds of queries. Step. I got a blog. Step. I began writing travel articles. Step. I joined PNN. Step. Best of all, each step feels like a victory, be it small or large. I have never worked so hard for something in my entire life, because nothing has ever mattered this much. I don’t just want to be a writer- I have to be a writer. I simply won’t be happy doing anything else.

I don’t remember how I heard about the Willamette Writers’ Conference in Portland. I signed up months ago and suddenly, it was here. I arrived at the Sheraton this afternoon wondering where the year had gone and how this date had arrived so quickly. This is yet another step for me, but it’s a pretty big one. The next three days will be full of classes, guest speakers, pitching, and networking. This is the real deal.

I’m excited and terrified at the same time. There’s a part of me who still can’t believe I’m actually doing this. There’s a part of me who still thinks I’m crazy for even trying. After all, I’m the girl who hid behind the piano rather than perform her first recital for others (in my defense, I was five). I’m the girl who quit softball when it got hard. I’m the girl who never took risks- who never quite fit in- who stayed silent rather than face others challenging her ideas.

But here I am, baring my soul to the world like it’s nothing. Here I am, realizing that taking risks is a part of life. There’s that part of me, the one who thinks I’m crazy, who fears that any minute now one of the successful authors is going to come up to my room and take my name tag away because they’ll realize that I’m not one of them… that inside I’m just a scared little girl who has absolutely no idea what the hell she’s doing.

Fortunately, the Sheraton has 24 hour room service and they’ll bring wine right to your room, like magic, so I’ve been able to shut that inner voice up pretty well tonight with some deep red syrah.
I could be wrong, but it really feels like every step I take gets me a little closer to that moment in the sun. I don’t know what the next few days have in store for me, but I do know, deep down, that I am meant to be here. Stories may be all we have, but it’s the writer who really turns that story into something worth telling.


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