Someone asked me the other day why I write. Easy. I write because I don’t know how not to.
I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Since I could hold a pen, and make marks on paper that weren’t just copying something off the blackboard. It’s as natural to me as breathing.
As time went on, the stories got longer, more complex. I’d get an idea and just run with it, to see where it took me. When I was 14, one of those ideas took me on a wild, 260-page adventure cranked out on an old Adler portable typewriter (forever remembered as the Tripewriter) in one-and-a-half linespacing. I can still smell the carbon paper.
That was my first attempt at writing a book. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book; that kind of admission, in high school, can have Consequences, and I was already in enough trouble with the cool kids because I wore glasses, didn’t smoke, and handed my homework in on time. Talk about making it hard for yourself! How I got out alive is anyone’s guess.
Of course, like most first attempts at novels, it was a load of rubbish. Derivative, cliche-ridden and agonisingly bad prose, but I enjoyed the process. More than enjoyed it. I was hooked. I wrote more. When my Dad brought home a BBC Model B computer (he was involved in the schools IT advisory service for the local education authority at the time) I taught myself to use the basic word-processing package that came with it and the words continued to flow. Now I could write into the night without the Tripewriter keeping the rest of the household awake. Bliss.
But I never thought I was writing for an audience. I was writing for me, because I wanted to find out what happened next in each story. Years passed, as they are wont to do, and “Songs” limped, in fits and starts, into something approaching novel length, though I still refused to call it a book anywhere but inside my head. I had a subscription to Writer’s News & Writing Magazine, and I called myself a writer, but that was it. I still only had an intended audience of one. Me.
I can’t remember what prompted me to put an excerpt up on a writers’ website for some feedback. Probably chivvied into it by my husband. Even he hadn’t read anything I’d written up to this point, but I guess he saw some potential underneath all the self-doubt. That was the first time I’d ever given house-room to the idea that actually, there might be people out there who would want to find out what happens next as much as I did.
Revelation. It was a whole new world. People said nice things about my writing; some of them even said they’d enjoyed it. Whoa. Headrush, even bigger than the one I got the first time I said, out loud, to another person, “I’m writing a book.”
This was just the confidence-boost I’d needed. I joined another site, got more feedback, finished “Songs” and with some trepidation, submitted it to literary agents. I was fully prepared for rejection, but I knew it wouldn’t stop me writing the rest of the books in the series. Nothing could, short of ceasing to breathe, because I had to find out what happened next.
All the stories are in my head, you see. Layers and layers of them, too big and too dense to see the whole thing at once. Each time I write a scene, it’s like it makes a space through which I can see the next one. So I write that, and there’s the next one, on and on like a conjurer’s gaudy handkerchiefs. I have a pretty good idea where it will end, but it’s the getting there, the discovery, that’s the exciting part.
That’s why I don’t plan. Scratch that, won’t plan. Can’t. I’ve tried, and it hammers almost all the creative magic out of the process for me. If I try to nail the story down beyond a vague outline what I write feels, to me, flat. Forced. In some unquantifiable but deeply important way, wrong.
You see, it’s not about knowing what happens next. I already do, subconsciously, somewhere under all those layers. No, what’s important is the Finding Out.