Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Writing

I've lately been basking in the glow of numerous complimentary comments regarding my writing abilities. I admit it is gratifying. Mostly because I really do love to write, and I'm grateful that people not only read what I pen, but sometimes take the time to comment on it, too.

Recently someone asked me "what was the first thing you ever wrote?" No doubt it was my name on a wall, probably upon freshly hung wallpaper. After that, my early memory fails me. I remember sitting and writing things, as other kids preferred to draw. My entire family loved to read, and I would try to concoct my own stories sometimes. My sister and I took our love for reading to strange level when we used to play library. We pasted pockets in the back of all our books, with a cardboard check-out card we'd "stamp", to check out the books. We each wanted to be a libararian until we found out you needed a master's degree in library science (what science?). I settled for working in the high school library, instead. And you can't say we weren't inventive, though slightly strange, children.

I do know that in grade school I wrote a little story, the words and even the title of which I forget, but the gist of the plot centered on the observations of a mouse aboard Columbus's ship coming to the New World. This much I know because my grandmother referred to it numerous times in years afterward, telling me how clever it was and that I should be a writer.

After that, in middle school, I wrote a short story for a school contest. Again, the title is lost to me, but it was selected as a runner-up in the contest and I, along with a couple other schoolmates, was taken to a conference at the University of Toledo, with nun in tow, to compete at the state level. I remember having to read a portion of my story aloud, and I became so nervous that I stammered and shook and thought I was going to throw up. I didn't, thankfully; nor did I win the contest. But these are evidences of an early gifting, so I like to think.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, my dear mother did not save these early literary efforts. Gold spray-painted, glued-together pieces of macaroni on construction paper she kept for years, though. Sighhhhhh. What could she have been thinking?

Maybe because of these losses, I saved nearly every essay and term paper I wrote in college. I wanted evidence of my abilities and hard work, each clever turn of a word. They piled up and after graduation, Bryan insisted that I should weed them out and throw them away. This from a third-generation pack rat! I balked. But I went through them, squirreling away the ones I was most proud of and discarding the rest. To be honest, I am sure I would never have referred to them again. But still.

Writing has always been an activity I've enjoyed and was thrilled to employ it during jobs. When I was asked to write a newsletter for the travel agency I worked at, I leaped at it (and for joy) and cranked it out in just under three hours. My boss was duly impressed. Then he proceeded to make changes. I was aghast. How dare he? My brilliant work! In the end, of course, we compromised and the newsletter had the small town, home-spun voice he was always trying to portray (despite his being a former corporate mogul from the New York area). But it was good for business and it was good for the newsletter to carry that through as part of the overall marketing plan. And it was good for me, to get used to working with editors and critics. Well, I may never get entirely used to it, but it prepared me for the inevitability of it, nonetheless.

Beginning the blog was a challenge. I was used to having to write on specific subjects. In college: Describe the political forces at work in the Cold War, using as many primary sources as possible. Write a well-researched thesis on a little-known battle taking place on American soil (I chose the Battle of Lake Erie, which was a naval battle but qualified nonetheless). At the agency, I wrote on specific travel destinations we were highlighting, or doled out packing tips. I had assignments, and I took to the task easily.

But more creative writing - personal essays especially - seemed intimidating. It has been a good exercise for me. I've had to not only open up more about myself, something I am usually hesitant to do (what if people think I'm, like, weird or something?), but I've had to search for topics without having them assigned to me. And I do confess that I sometimes feel competely uninspired. The past two weeks have been rather dry. I've considered and discarded a dozen potential topics. One seemed promising, but I couldn't really give it enough "meat" to be a satisifying length. But that, too, has helped me hone my skills and look more closely at things around me as future fodder.

When I lag in topics, I write other things. During this recent dry time, I've focused my energy on writing an article I promised for a travel website. Topic: New Mexico's Native Places. An assignment so to speak, though the initial idea was mine. But I had committed myself to write it. And I know the material. Very little research is involved and I can continue to write. I have jotted down several ideas to pitch to magazines and wrote a couple queries. That is, while I actually had writer's block, in practice I was still writing and that made me feel productive.

So I am a writer. It's my passion, even when I'm not garnering compliments, and even when I don't feel very passionate about a topic or when I lag in ideas. A few months ago one friend began reading the blog and emailed, "This is really good. You could be a writer." I wrote back, "I am a writer. I write, therefore I am."

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Kelly Hlavin said...

You amaze me - these wrings are truly beautiful!!

I must thank you, though, for bringing something apparently very important to my attention: I happen to have a picture of gold-painted macaroni noodles hanging on my wall - Jenny made it for me when she was only 6. Perhaps I should start saving other things as well!!

Love, Kelly