Friday, September 15, 2006

When I Became a Writer

This is post 200 for me, a milestone of sorts, so it seems fitting that my topic today is based on Erica Orloff's post yesterday asking for the moment when you felt like a real writer.

I wrote stories as a child. I have one called "My Very First Book." I was about 5 or 6, and books were my life. (Well, books have been my life since I was 4. Ask anyone. :)

As an older child, my best friend and I constantly "made movies." We wrote short plot synopses and acted things out, "writing" them verbally as we went. I can still vividly remember what it felt like to be immersed in the worlds we created.

As a junior in high school, I got an "A"on a term paper about colonial food, from a teacher who was infamously stingy with her A's. I wrote the paper from the point of view of a tree.

In college (again, junior year!) I had two abstracts for term papers published in the Student Scholar. One was on deforestation, the other on the behavior of starlings. The one on deforestation won me $100 and the Ruth Davies Award for Excellence in Writing.

That same year I started a novel. It got erased and I waited years before trying again.

The summer between my junior and senior years, I had an article on fireflies published in the local paper, and a short piece published in a newsletter about Sarrett Nature Center, where I had an internship as a naturalist.

After graduation, I had an internship at National Geographic Society. I proofread field guides and edited 500+ geography abstracts, some written by native Mandarin speakers, for the 27th International Geographical Congress.

In 1993, I wrote 50,000 words on my first book before deciding it should be three shorter books and starting over. I took correspondence courses and attended workshops by Jennifer Crusie and Victoria Thompson. It was in the latter that I realized I could pinpoint the moment I REALLY became a writer.

I don't know exactly when it was, time-wise. But there is this very famous author who shall remain nameless. I'd been reading her books since high school, and sobbed over many of them. Somewhere along the line, I sobbed while thinking that I really didn't like the book, so why did it make me cry, anyway? A book or two after that, I stopped reading her. It was excruciating trying to, so I gave up.

In that workshop with VT, she said this particular famous author was a good storyteller, but not a very good writer.

I knew when she said that, that the moment I became a writer was the moment I recognized that and stopped reading the book.

For a lot of people, the difference between storytelling and writing is meaningless. It's why this famous author continues to sell books. It's why The Da Vinci Code was so big. It is even the secret to JK Rowling's success.

Storytelling wins over writing any day. Having both will serve you best, but storytelling will triumph more often than not.

Which scares me. Because unlike Famous Unnamed Author, I think I'm better at writing than storytelling. I'm working on it, but the writing is easier to learn. The storytelling is innate.

What about you? When was your moment?

And if you're a reader, do you notice the difference between writing and storytelling? Which do you prefer?


Anonymous said...

Probably the moment I felt like a writer was when I joined RWA and met up with a room of people JUST LIKE ME! That was a nirvana moment. Wow, there are other people out there who hear voices too! (:

And I guess I'm probably a better storyteller than writer. My grammar and such isn't always so good, but I'm working on that.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Oh, yeah, that's a big one. The moment a writer discovers she's not alone. :)