Writing’s not that hard after all, just putting a bunch of words on paper, right? That’s what non-writers might think until they try to write themselves. When you’re writing those first words, everybody – and I do believe it’s everybody – wonders how they’re supposed to write. You know you have something to say. You’ve thought of a great story, a feeling, or a subject that fascinates you. Just write it down, right? But writing didn’t come that easily to me and it didn’t come that easily to anyone that I’ve ever known.
Writing was fun and much harder than I’d ever imagined. Before I decided to take some writing classes, I would sit in front of my typewriter for hours afraid that the next words would never come. When I did get an idea for a story and type it out, I thought I’d done it, that’s all there was to writing. My problem of course, was that I didn’t know about craft. I didn’t get it, not really.
A musician practices their scales or an artist sketches an endless number of hands or ears or eyes so that when inspiration comes, they have the tools to capture the sound, the image, the feeling of the moment. I hadn’t applied the same principle I had used in my music or art to my writing.
The way authors talked about craft sometimes clicked with me when I read a selection from my growing library of writing books. Most of the time, I didn’t believe that I would ever be able to write the way that real writers wrote, or at one point I remember thinking that when the perfect story came to me, it would flow magically from some place deep inside of me. I was only beginning to understand that opening the door to my creativity wasn’t enough.
Okay, so now I was in a different state, we’d moved from Illinois to Maryland and I had a little room set aside as an office/library, I’d started working again, and I still had insomnia. The kids got a little older and instead of mending their clothes or some other chore when I couldn’t sleep, I decided to try writing again and signed up for my first non-credit class at Johns Hopkins University.
I had this idea about a guy moving to Chicago. I’d moved there in my twenties for my first job with the Federal Government and the time and place felt vivid to me but I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel. My workshop teacher told me to think of everything at once, character development, setting, language, all of it. I couldn’t see how I would ever be able to do all of that at the same time and he gave me that look that made me wonder if he knew I had no talent. I was pretty pitiful but I did write about thirty pages during the semester which I thought was wonderful.
There were quite a few non-credit writing courses in Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program and I think I took them all. It wasn’t until a small group of us from a mystery writing class decided to form a writer’s group that I devised my first plan.