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Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Becoming a Writer

Some of us are fortunate enough to know they want to write from the time they are very young. Others do not discover their calling until later in life. I suppose I fall into both categories.

I've always loved to read. As a youngster in school I preferred staying indoors at recess and reading. Each new school year I would read through all my text books within the first couple weeks and then spend my time reading from both the school library and the town library.

I started writing about that same time... simple stories none of which exist any longer. I worked very hard on them though, writing and rewriting them until they seemed perfect. I recall how at the start of one particular year our teacher would read each essay in front of the class, starting with the one she deemed to be the best. She was a ugly wicked old thing who I grew to despise.

That first day she stood in front of the class reading each essay one after another. I found myself wondering why she had picked the essays that she read over mine. They were okay but I knew mine was superior. She would read one essay, and when she finished she paused as she looked in my direction, and then she would read another. At each pause I expected my essay to be read.

But mine did not appear. I thought, oh my, mine must have been so terrible she couldn't bring herself to read it. When she had finished the last essay I thought of raising my hand and saying something... that perhaps she had overlooked or misplaced my essay. But then she said, there is one more essay here, but I am not going to read it. Mr. Glover has obviously copied it from somewhere. If I knew where he copied it, I would have him go to the principal's office. But since I cannot prove that he has indeed copied it, I am making him write another essay.

I recall being very embarrassed to be called out in front of the class like that. I hadn't copied the essay but of course there was no way I could prove that anymore than my teacher could prove that I did copy it. I had worked very hard on the story. Never being able to sleep at night I had stayed up late writing it over the course of a week working out each detail, taking pride in doing my very best.

I recall the story being about finding myself trapped in a terrible snowstorm and how I struggled against the elements wanting to pause to light a fire over which to warm myself but unable to force my frozen hands to hold a match. After many trial and tribulations I finally reached my destination. It appeared out of the whiteness in front of my eyes and I knew I had finally made it to school. I thought it was a good story... it contained suspense and intrigue, desire and need, a sound plot, and a revelation at the end.

I hadn't for a moment believed the story to be so good as to defy belief that I had written it myself. I learned a lesson that day. I learned not to take so much care in my writing. I realized that I was showing off. I heard the other students snickering as she handed my paper back to me with a big red F on it. She made sure everyone saw it. I lost a little of my love for writing that day.

Many years later I began telling stories once again. I had grown up by now and in fact had raised a family and suffered through the loss of loved ones and failed dreams. I wrote mainly for the enjoyment it afforded and shared my writings with only a select few people who I happened to meet in the early days of the Internet.

One man who enjoyed my stories lived in Norway. His name is Bodvar Skutvik. He asked me to write the story of the Lila Squad, an email discussion group devoted to the works of Robert Pirsig... who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a second novel called Lila. We both had enjoyed exchanging our views and I liked Bodvar very much.

Still, I didn't think for a moment that I was qualified for such a task. I had no college degree. What did I know about writing? Nothing. I ran a janitorial business. I cleaned toilets for a living. I refused Bodvar's invitation to write the story. Though I didn't say so to him I thought he must be having a laugh at my expense.

But then he asked me again. And again I refused. I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn't the person for this venture. He needed to find someone more educated, someone with a PhD or at the very least a college degree in literature, someone who knew how to write. He needed to find someone who was everything that I was not.

And I thought the matter was finished. Surely Bodvar would understand my recalcitrance and wouldn't bother asking me again. But he did. And the third time he asked, I realized that perhaps I could do as he asked... that if he had such confidence in me that I should go ahead and give the project my all.

A year later I published the book that came to be called Lila's Child on a website I learned to construct myself. And again I thought the matter was finished. I had done what Bodvar requested. The book was there for all to see. Now I could get back to more important matters like polishing floors and scrubbing carpets.

Six months later Bodvar wrote me to say that Robert Pirsig himself had sent him a letter describing how he had stumbled across my website and how much he enjoyed reading Lila's Child. I thought once again that Bodvar was having a bit of fun with me. But then it dawned on me that Bodvar was one of those serious Norwegians who rarely had fun and if he did it wouldn't be over something as groundbreaking as this.

Mr. Pirsig wrote Bodvar that he was making notes on the book. I thought how interesting it would be to see those notes so I wrote Bodvar back wondering if he would write to Mr. Pirsig to make a request that he share those notes. Bodvar said no, he didn't think that would be proper. He said that I should be happy with what I had accomplished and to forget any such nonsense like I suggested. I didn't have Mr. Pirsig's address to write him myself nor did I think I should usurp Bodvar's advice.

I knew he was right. So I forgot about it. Much to my surprise though a month later Bodvar wrote me once again saying that he had had a change of mind and wrote to Mr. Pirsig after all. And Mr. Pirsig had agreed to share his notes as well as to write an introduction to Lila's Child. Bodvar provided me with an address which to mail my finished work and a correspondence of sorts occurred between Mr. Pirsig and me. Those were very heady times and it took another two years to complete the book.

But finally the day arrived that Lila's Child was finished and published as a real book. I could hold it in my hands. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled I felt bereft. I felt as if a huge part of my life was over... that I would never again enjoy the satisfaction of losing myself in my writings as I had done while working on Lila's Child.

So I started telling stories again... short stories at first, and later, novels. Now I write thousands of words each day. I work part time as my writings do not pay the bills, yet, but they bring in enough money that I no longer have to work full time and I can devote four or five hours daily to doing what I love: writing.

I wonder how others have come to be the writers they are today? Do you have a story to share? If so, I would love to hear it!

Thank you for reading!

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