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My love of books started when I was five and my aunt took me to the library to get my first library card. Every week she would come get me and we’d go together to check out books for her to read to me. I can still remember the smell of the pages, and the excitement each week when I’d trade in one stack of books for a stack of new ones.
I was probably 7 or 8 when I started writing fan fiction for Little House on the Prairie. I’d read all the books in the series and wanted more. So I wrote my own. In junior high, my best friend and I wrote a serial adventure. We took turns writing chapters, trading the notebook back and forth. I loved reading her installments as much as I enjoyed writing mine. Half the fun was seeing her reaction when I set them into a scary place or left the chapter hanging with a giant snake at the end of a tunnel.
It was also in junior high where I found my first mentor. Mr. Gira taught English, but not as I’d experienced it before. Creativity was encouraged, and during that year I started a novel. A teen romance that I’m sure was pretty sappy. But he gamely read each chapter and gave me feedback.
Although I never finished that novel, I took the characters and inserted then into a new novel I started when I was a sophomore – an edgier teen romance in which an earthquake destroys southern California while a group of teens are at summer camp. Fate shined on me that year – Mr. Gira transferred from the junior high to the high school and he was once again my English teacher. I’d also received an electric typewriter for my birthday – a sign that my plan to be a writer was being taken seriously.
By the time I graduated high school, I was certain I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write fiction, but of course that wasn’t an acceptable career choice, so I included journalism when anyone asked about my major. But I knew my heart was all for fiction.
Throughout my teen years, I saw various articles published in the school newspaper and literary magazine. I was excited about taking my first ‘for real’ writing course in college, certain I would find my niche. I didn’t. Instead of finding kindred spirits interested in writing good fiction, I was surrounded by people who looked down on commercial fiction. The in-class feedback was brutal and derisive. They (the professor included) seemed to think that the more obscure and experimental the writing, the better the quality. In my imagination, they all wore black turtlenecks and berets, chain-smoking at the local coffee house, and reading their work aloud on Angry Poet’s Night.
Confidence shattered, I switched majors and stopped writing.
At least officially.
I still wrote reams of letters to friends and family—anecdotes, character sketches, dramas, and probably some fiction as well. It wasn’t until ten years later or more that I dared pick up a pen again with intentions of writing another novel. I stared at the blank page, terrified by the emptiness and the specters of my long ago classmates.
I wrote a first sentence. Crossed it out and tried again. And again. Until finally, I decided whatever talent I may have had, had evaporated over the years due to non-use, the way paint dries up in a can.
I continued to read voraciously, sometimes consuming 2-3 paperbacks a week. I would often buy books based first on the time period (my favorite was American history 1850-1900), and next by length. The longer the better. I discovered a trilogy I fell in love with, and it was while reading the companion book to the series that the writing light bulb clicked on again. I found a forum composed of the author’s fans discussing the books, the characters, and other books. A subset of that group formed a literary forum for those interested in writing. All levels of writing were represented, and feedback was offered with respect and a spirit of helping each other grow as writers.
It was there that I met my online critique group, and more than a dozen years later we are still supporting each other in the writing journey.
There were lots of ups and downs, but from that moment I was single-minded in my pursuit of learning to write good fiction. I read writing books, attended workshops and conferences, participated in various critique groups, and worked hard to improve my writing skills.
Over the years I’ve learned and developed a number of strategies for facing the page. Whatever your ultimate goal—research papers, memoir, letters to the editor, publishing a full length novel, or even just plain journaling—I believe a daily writing practice is the key.
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