Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why we write

Have you ever wondered why an author will struggle at a computer, maybe even a typewriter, or sit for hours with a red pencil rereading the words they put on paper? Writing a book, a short story, coming up with new worlds, or a romantic plot, a mystery that must have a solution by the end of the story is not an easy task. Especially for those of us with little or no training in creative writing. I didn't have any. In fact English was not my best subject.

But, let me start at the beginning. Here I was, a forty something, Home Economics teacher, mother of four, plump, and even viewed as a grandmotherly type. In fact, more than once in a classroom, I got called grandma. So, you get the idea. Picture what you would imagine the typical Home Economics teacher of thirty or forty years ago to look like. I never thought about writing a novel. Yet, writing a romance became a necessity.

Try then to imagine the shock of the other teachers (especially the English teachers) who had no idea you were writing anything but lesson plans and grant applications, when, at a teachers' meeting, your principal pulls your first romance from his briefcase with one of those old bodice ripper covers on it and asks you to autograph it. Of course, in those days, the covers always featured the heroine and the hero and left little to the imagination. Also, at the time, romance novels were considered little more than trash. Quite a few people insisted they had little value and there was nothing worthwhile about them.

Even worse, I made the radio because Paul Harvey, on his midday show, commented there was a Michigan teacher teaching her students about family living during the day and writing romance novels at night. That raised a few eyebrows and while I didn't hear the program, I sure can tell you I heard about it. At the time, I was busy trying to teach while telling my students to put the book I'd written away because they couldn't read any fiction book during class.

So why did I write and why do I still hover over my desk and spend hours researching and dreaming up plots?  I'd like to share what gives purpose to what I do in spite of the less than stellar beginning I had.

It happened one afternoon, as I hurried to the workroom for something, (I don't remember what) when one of my 11th grade male students stopped me in the hall. He wanted to know if he could talk to me -- about my novel. By that time I got a bit defensive if anyone said they wanted to talk about MY book because it usually meant I wasn't going to like the comment.

He also indicated he wished to have his say someplace private, so we went to a corner of the library. I figured, oh boy, here it comes again! Another -  shame on you, or how could you, or my parents....  I'd heard it all before.

Imagine my shock when he sheepishly admitted he'd never read a whole book until he read mine. I was stunned. He was a junior in high school and there were summer reading lists, and book reports. How could he have never read a whole book? But he assured me he had never bothered reading the whole thing, just bit and pieces. But he had read ever word of mine. I don't know why, but I asked him if he liked it. He said, yes, he did. But the story doesn't end there because two years later, in the fall, I was shopping in our local mall and stopped at the book store, because you bought books at a book store back then. (Remember, I started writing with a typewriter twenty five years ago and the internet hadn't arrived yet.)

Here came my student from the back of the store, his arms full of books. He had a stack of five or six hardback novels, and not small ones, by any means. He greeted me and said, "Look what you've done to me. Now I spent all my spare money on books." At that moment I knew why I wrote fiction. If nothing else, I had inspired one young man to read a book and once he discovered how great reading was, he didn't want to stop.

Now, when I get a bit discouraged, and wonder why I keep plugging away at the computer, I remember that young man. It's worth my hard work if through my books another young person can experience the joy of immersing themselves in the world of make believe.

So, the next time you read a book, you might give a thought to why the author is writing fiction. I can tell you now, they write because it's in their blood; they have to write. At forty I had to write. And with any luck, they will have an experience that gives them the incentive to keep writing as I did.
Allison, with at least one reader to her credit! 


Big Mike said...

Terrific story Rep G. Paul Harvey. Amazing. And you're right, even if we didn't write, the stories would still be there, in our head. Can't help it, The whispers go on no matter what we do.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Such a great story. I had played "dodge the drudge" with the reading list for years until my mother introduced me to Mignon Eberhart's (no relation)mysteries. I read my way through those until I figured out that the murderer was always intoduced between pages 32 and 75. Gone With the Wind followed and I was sold.

I still read two or three books a week and write every day. It's a magical escape either way.

linda_rettstatt said...

Great post. I know why I write--because I have to. It's no more an option than breathing is. It's always gratifying when I hear from a reader that a particular story touched them in some way and made them feel less alone, more hopeful, or entertained.

Jude Johnson said...

HUZZAH! That is such a high for any author to experience!

January Bain said...

Allison, that's so-o inspiring!

Rita Bay said...

Hadn't heard the Paul Harvey story. So cool. Men should read romance. Might be an education. Great post, Allison. Rita Bay

Liz Fountain said...

Great story, Allison. There is nothing quite like realizing someone else has read a story I created, and it touched them. Made them happy, sad, mad, or laugh - doesn't matter, just knowing it moved them is both thrilling and humbling enough.

But I agree with Linda and BM, too. I write because I have to - it's not like the stories in my head get quieter the longer they stay locked up in there! :-D