I think I first sat down at a typewriter (what on Earth is that?) when I was probably eight or nine and typed the words CHAPTER 1. Being a perfectionist, I noticed it wasn’t centered, and tried again. This inability to move on from a few words until they were perfect really hindered my ability to write any type of creative fiction. Once I got the words centered, I went ahead and started typing. I don’t remember what it was about, exactly, but it was probably something in the fantasy genre. I don’t think I wrote more than a single chapter and then lost interest.
Writing anything became easier when our family got a computer with a printer and a word processor. Mind you, when I was in my early teens, a computer and printer wasn’t exactly as common as it is nowadays, seeing as how I’m about to turn 39 (again) as I write this. But it was quite a gift. I found as I worked my way through high school and college that for anything short – say, ten pages or less – I could pretty much crank out text without outline or editing and get high marks and kudos for my creativity. Editing? Outlines? Ha!
A few examples come to mind. I worked on our newspaper in high school as an editor. This was in the days when you got printed text from the printer and literally had to cut those infernal strips of plastic with a knife and glue them on to paper to create the look and layout you needed. As editors, we also got to write our own article on any topic we wished. It would probably be the equivalent of a few pages of novel text (500-800 words or so). Outside letting my concept churn in my head for a bit, I wrote all of them in one sitting without outlining, and at most went back and tweaked the wording of a sentence here or there.
I wrote a short story for the school literary magazine. In it, a boy who lived on the moon would sneak away from home in the family’s spaceship and visit Earth so that he could see and smell the flowers, and eventually died when he contracted some common virus and his body couldn’t handle it. (This sounds like a pretty intriguing concept for a book at some point; don’t anybody go run with this!) It was probably about 10 pages long. I’m fairly sure I wrote it in a couple of sittings, with only minor editing. And it was quite good. No idea what others thought, since nobody actually read the stories and poems; this was high school, after all.
My favorite writing time in high school involved a piece of creative writing we did. We were in the process of reading Beowulf. Our teacher gave us an assignment: get out the newspaper, pick something you find there, and rewrite it in the style of Beowulf. If you’ve never read the story, the language makes something as routine as picking up a fork sound like the most incredible heroic feat in the history of civilization. I scanned the newspaper and came to the comics section. As fate would have it, it was the time of year for the annual Peanuts comic where Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown. I’d found my topic, and wrote away. I think it took me one sitting to write it out (3-4 pages), and a few bits of editing. I got an A, and when the teacher handed the essays back, he specifically told everyone that they should read my story. Given that he was a man of rather high standards, that was praise indeed.
Whenever I thought of the future, and daydreamed what my vision of success would be, it was always that I’d be a successful author. I read a lot. My mind was just warped enough to come up with obscure characters and plotlines, but while I could churn out 5-10 pages of highly readable prose on a single topic at will, weaving many chapters and multiple storylines together seemed daunting. So while I had interesting concepts and characters pop into my head (though sadly, none involved a boy who was a wizard or a vampire), I mostly “wrote” them in my head.
At some point in time, I found a website or three that talked about teaching you to write novels quickly. The point they made was simply that most people get sidetracked trying to edit their own work as they go along. Instead, they said, you should identify the subject of your writing for a given session, set a timer, and write as fast as you possibly can, no stops allowed to fix spelling, grammar, or punctuation. You’d be surprised, they’d say, at just how fast you could crank out 50,000 words for a novel if you follow this approach. Intriguing.
For one of these sites, the owner basically offered to do a free writing evaluation. You’d give him your email address. He’d send you three words. You were to set a timer for five minutes and write as fast as you could without stopping to edit, but you had to write those three words into the prose. I remember that one of the words was “fire.” My quick blurb involved a man coming home to find his house in flames, in sheer agony because his love was in there. I sent it in. The guy emailed me back, and told me it was better writing than he’d seen from most professionals, and that he REALLY wanted to know more about the story. (I think I can answer that now.) Sadly, the exchange was lost during an email switch, and I have no idea what site that was or who provided the evaluation. (If by chance you are reading this and this particular anecdote is familiar, please contact me!)
Anyway, the story finally comes full circle one day when I start to hear about this self-publishing concept. I’d heard the stories of the incredible delays and rejections suffered by writers trying to get themselves agents and publishing contracts. I think I avoided writing anything because frankly, I didn’t want to deal with it. But the ability to upload my manuscript to Amazon and publish it to the world…essentially right after I’m done writing? Now THAT I can try. I read many blogs on self-publishing, and decided it was time to dredge up some of the old story ideas. I merged the “house on fire” idea that was still in my head (I’m a sucker for praise!) with the one of a man who wakes up one day in a strange new environment, did a bit of pondering and thinking and (gasp!) plotting, and thus was born the Aliomenti Saga.