Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's it all about?

When I graduated high school, my mom said I was going to write a book. She actually used to say that a lot, and true confession: It drove me nuts. It really did.

I had no desire to sit in a chair for hours and hours, day after day, trying to keep up with some story idea. I just couldn't conceive how that could ever possibly be enjoyable or fulfilling.

And I didn't even know about agents or rejection letters or reviews or sales figures back then.

I remembered this because I read another interview with Kathryn Stockett about her five-year, 60-rejection-letter journey to publication with The Help. (link).

More true confessions, I avoided reading that book for years--mostly because I was just getting started on the journey to publication, and I didn't want to see any similarities to myself in it. (Which would mean that was at least a fraction of the pain I was going to have to endure before... something happened.)

I finally caved when my book club decided we'd read it in January, and of course I loved it--like everyone else in America. I even reviewed it for The Burrow (link).

But now when I read Stockett's story, I react in a different way. Now I know what I'm up against, and now I'm wondering why I had more sense at 17 than I do now, more than 20 years later.

Trying to become a published author (at least the traditional way) is self-abusive madness! So why am I doing this?

Hmm... I've asked myself this before, and I'm not sure if there's one reason. Last time I pondered the question, I decided it was because I'd gotten to a point as a professional communicator where it was the only thing I hadn't done.

That sounds really good, right? I'm not sure it's true.

I sat down and wrote my very first book in the fall of 2009. I'd just returned from a trip to Scottsdale, Az., with JRM, who was there for a work convention.

While he was in classes and hanging out with his lawyer-buds, I was alone, in one of his partner's rental cars (an '09 Camaro, no less), cruising around, visiting ghost towns, running up to Sedona...

Taliesin West
I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright house Taliesin West (link), and on the tour, they told us how Wright was a teacher and a designer, how he did what he had to do to survive the Depression in his 50s and 60s, and how it wasn't until then, in his 60s, that he started getting the commissions he's most known for today.

He started work on Falling Water (link) when he was 67 years old. He finished the Guggenheim art museum in New York City when he was 92, after working on it for 16 years.

After I got home from that trip, I sat down and wrote the first of four complete novels and four half-novels that bring us to today, with me in revisions on #4.

What happened?

Well, I visited this weird little souvenir shop on the road to Sedona, and while I was there, in the Indian artifacts room, suddenly all the lights went out and a bizarre hailstorm started.

I was alone, in the dark with shrunken heads, masks, weird weapons, pottery... I walked to the nearest door and looked outside at the huge hailstones falling and thought how glad I was to be driving a rental that day.

The temperature nose-dived 50 degrees in less than 10 minutes. And I returned home possessed by the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Just kidding.

OK, the part about the freak hailstorm and the temperature drop while I was in the creepy souvenir shop is true, but it's just one of those crazy, "it happened to me" stories I like to tell.

That story of Frank Lloyd Wright did effect me, though. When he died, he was at his table sketching, they said at Taliesin. Happy.

And I think that's it. I think when you hit on something you love to do, you just can't help doing it. It's nice if people like it and you get recognition while you're alive. But I'm not sure if it's ever possible to stop doing it.

I don't know. Why do you guys keep pursuing the dream?

Til Monday, have a great week-end, reader- and writer-friends. I'm over here revising~ <3


Jessica Bell said...

It's definitely because I just couldn't stop. If I was offered a billion dollars to never write again, I couldn't do it. And it is self-abuse isn't it! Wow, my lights just went on. What am I doing to myself? lol

Unknown said...

I have asked that same question myself on many occasions and I think I've come to the same conclusion you and Jessica have, I can't stop if I wanted to. The stories would keep smacking me in the face until I finished them.

Matthew MacNish said...

It gives me something to do when I'm supposed to be working.

And Frank Lloyd Wright is/was incredible. I always thought he designed The House on the Rock, in Wisconsin, but apparently I was wrong about that. Oh well.

Unknown said...

Hope for me yet, then. :0) Began this at 73 and about to publish my fifth book, well done Frank Lloyd Wright, definitely someone to emulate!

Old Kitty said...

Yay for Frank Lloyd Wright!! And for Kathryn Stockett!! Persistence, hard work, patience and more persistence always pays off. Yay again!

Take care

Michael Di Gesu said...

It's not uncommon for an artist to spend years at his/her craft for decades before they are successful.

Art is in our soul weather it be design, painting, sculpting, composing, or writing. It's a part of who we are and it keeps us alive.

In my first artistic life it was drawing and painting I was obsessed with, three years ago that switched to writing. This could last for decades, but in the back of my mind music calls..... hmmm. A concert pianist.. Could be? Do they have a senior program... lol.

Adriana Noir said...

I do it because no matter how much hard work it is, writing brings me joy. I couldn't give it up if I wanted to. Thanks for the inspiring article, and it was great reading through all the comments and seeing others with the same passion!

Hart Johnson said...

I had such similar attitudes about writing a book at that age--it just had never crossed my mind it was something you paced yourself at. And writing really is when i'm happiest... the querying, synopsising piece, not so much, but I LOVE the writing and I've come to LIKE the rewriting and editing. How lucky would we be to make our living at it, eh?

Angela said...

I love the act of creation.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Something about finding that perfect phrase, finishing that revision, or that bright shiny idea I can't's something I can't be without now. I'm preaching to the choir. :)

Dawn Ius said...

I don't actually think I have a choice in the matter. I've "tried" to stop. It lasts until the next idea pops out of the seemingly never-ending factory.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi LTM .. you all just seem to keep going and perhaps the home fires are kept burning - because you have so many authors following you around .. and there are so many examples of people who started, early, middle and late in life - good for you - you're on your way .. happy times ahead! Hilary

Myne said...

I've just been writing for so long that I don't know that I can totally stop. Of course I can take time off, do some other things I'm passionate about, but a story will always catch up with me in the end. :)

ps, we'll be seeing The Help when it comes out, and maybe I'll read the book. :)

Unknown said...

LOL! You're funny. FLW was a Wisconsin boy, so I got to do my 4th grade report on him. He certainly had an interesting life! I'm a little jealous that you were able to invoke his spirit. hahaha.

I keep writing because I like telling stories. My dad's BFF comes from a long line of actual storytellers. They get paid to stand up and talk and talk. To me that seems weird though. I need my stories on paper. :)

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I don't remember a time I wasn't making up stories for fun. Now I get to do it and call work.
I've worked jobs that I had to -- and enjoyed a few of them. But only making up stories keeps me smiling.

Summer Ross said...

Great story. I could picture you in that creepy shop being possessed by a ghost. :)

Why do I do it? I have so many reasons. It relaxes me in emotional wind storms. It helps me concentrate on something other than real life, its fun to contemplate how words are thrown together and how each sentence falls into line with each other alluring the reader into something I created. And sometimes I do it because its more than I love it, its an extension of myself I explore as often as possible. Like the pen is an extra finger, the paper is my second sight, and the words that flow are my super power that could crush a life or breath life into something beyond who i am as a person.

Happy revising!

Lydia Kang said...

I just tweeted that article about Katheryn Stockett!

I think we all share a dream of writing something that affects others, even in a little way. It's human nature, but in literary form.

M Pax said...

The Help is a great book. I read it last summer. And I love Frank Lloyd Wright. Love his designs.

I enjoyed your story w/ the shrunken heads. Cool. :)

I write because I love writing and I love telling stories. That's all that matters. It'll keep me going until my last breath.

DEZMOND said...

hey, imagine if dreams pursued us instead of us pursuing them, and I don't mean nightmares :)

Hope you will like THE HELP film as well which is done and ready to hit cinemas.

KM Nalle said...

After a brief break from writing I've just started back again. I've been so energized and happy! Right now I don't have a prayer of getting published, but I'm in it for the enjoyment, the personal challenge and the cookies I get to eat while revising. I'm shooting for getting published "someday" but even if I miss, I'll spend a lifetime smiling.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Like you. It's an obsession that I sometimes love, and sometimes hate. But even when I have dry spells, I always come back to it. Because my characters/stories demand to be told. Yeah, they rule me. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I totally want to die with an unfinished manuscript. Just keep right on working until the end. That probably sounds crazy, but it's the truth! ;)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Like you, I enjoy the madness of writing. Yup, it drives me crazy, but it's so fulfilling.

Janet Johnson said...

Isn't that just it? There's something so satisfying in writing a story and creating a world. It makes me happy. And I need to remember that more often.

Thanks for this awesome post! And LOL about being possessed. No wonder I like you so much. :D

PK HREZO said...

I LOVE Sedona! And what a freaky, but really cool story! I'd be so inspired to write by that, I'd be scrambling for a notepad.
I agree. It's just who we are and what we do. And I think once we make it to where we want, like Stockett has, we will have truly earned the maturity and discipline necessary to maintain it. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.
My book club is taking a field trip to see the movie next weekend. I'm skeptical if it can be up to par with the book. But we shall see!

Stina said...

Okay, that's scene's right out of a horror movie. I hope you're okay and not emotionally scarred (like I would be).

I love creating stories and characters. That's why I keep the dream alive. :D

Anonymous said...

Keep at it, Leigh. Don't give up!

Btw, I'm very familiar with the sights in Scottsdale and Sedona which you've mentioned. AND, get this, I am currently reading THE HELP. What are the odds??

I started reading THE HELP because I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. And I'm loving it and wondering, "why the hell was this rejected by publishers 60 times before someone decided to publish it??" *Sigh* A lot of times I think it boils down to timing and luck.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it - I think most of us love what we do. I can't imagine not writing stories, because it's something I've always done :)

LTM said...

@Hilary--you're right, you know. These stories like Stockett's just fuels the insanity. LOL! But we do have a great support group. THANK YOU!!! ((hugs))

@Summer--LOL! Oooo!!! I'm the ghost of FLW!!! :D No, the temp. dive was weirder than the shop. But the workers said being in the desert mtns, that happens.

I love your reason for writing~ :o)

@Anita--they're very impatient about being born and having our attention. A lot like actual children that way~ :D LOL! <3

@PK--I feel like I should find a way to use it... somehow. Maybe it'll pop up, and you'll know where it came from! :D I don't think I'll ever forget it. I like that "journey" philosophy. That's a bit how I see it, too. And man! I've moved too far to go w/my book club, but we're all chatting about it on FB~ :o) <3

@Liz--oh, no worries there! I'm supposed to be revising right now! Arizona was VERY interesting and inspiring. I know you're there. I'd been to Phoenix before, but as a child visiting my g'mom. So it was like a new experience~

I agree w/you on timing and what was that about luck? Opportunity + preparedness? ;p <3

Shannon said...

Good post, Leigh. Thanks for sharing.

For me, I can't imagine doing anything else than writing. It's funny where our journey takes us. I never dreamed I'd get paid to write movie, wine, and restaurant reviews but I am...and I'm loving it.

As far as the novel goes, I'm still plodding away. I think it's like OCD - I couldn't stop writing if I tried.

Julie Musil said...

It's funny you should ask this. I've actually wondered why, and I can't come up with a solid answer. I just DO it. You know? And I'm not even all that sure where I want to go, just that I'm enjoying the ride.

walk2write said...

We should all be so lucky as FLW, drawing our last breaths while working on something that we love to do.

One of these days, I've got to visit AZ again. Saw the Grand Canyon once, but it was like that Chevy Chase Vacation movie. Ahh! Beautiful! Okay, let's go!

Anonymous said...

I can't stop writing or not write.

Ella said...

I love this post; I loved what you wrote. It is in our blood, it is part of our DNA. I tucked my art away, too messy, not enough time, takes so long to set it up, etc. Now, I can't give it up. I have been talked out of it several times in my life, but I don't ever want to stop again. Last time I did; I wasn't me, became depressed. It is part of the fingerprints of our soul; an expressive form of us as much as a quirky smile. We have to let it out.
Why? For me, it is because I know I have a unique voice. I have been told that at a really young age. I didn't know what to make of it, but now I find it is a gift to see beauty in the ordinary. 555 <3 xXx

Theresa Milstein said...

I don't stop because I can't. I've felt like you so many times. So many times in one day. What would I do, get story ideas and ignore them? If I don't spit them on paper, they start barking for attention. I'd probably go mad otherwise.

Or maybe I am mad...

Creepy Query Girl said...

I guess today it feels more like a dream to me than at any other point in my journey. The only reason I still pursue it is because I'm always writing. I think my books are worthy. And if I do nothing than there wouldn't really be a point in any of it would there?:)