Guest Blog on Originality by Design
Growing up, I wasn’t one of those little girls who hid away with her books for hours of quiet
reading and escaping into fictional worlds with fictional people. Sure, I had a few books that were favorites—Charlotte’s Web, a couple of the Nancy Drew books, but I didn’t have stacks of books in my closet or on a shelf. Heck, I only knew the location of the library because it was next door to my school. I didn’t write poetry or short stories, I never kept a journal or spilled my deepest secrets onto the pages of a pretty floral diary with a lock on the front.
The reason I mention this is because most of my author friends grew up with a love of solitude and were, and still are, happiest when at home writing stories or reading those written by others. Preferably while wearing some version of pajamas or sweats. Many of them have said how they wrote their first story in elementary school or middle school, another told me about winning a poetry contest. One of my favorite authors shared how when she was a little girl, she would close herself in her closet to read all day. Her mom would even bring her macaroni and cheese so she could stay hidden away.
Solitude? Reading all day? Writing stories? Being allowed to eat in my bedroom? As a kid, these were all foreign concepts to me.
See, I grew up with five extremely active brothers—quiet time was not a thing in our house. Our childhood consisted of long days spent playing outside until the street lights came on and we had to go home. We climbed trees, road bikes, built cardboard box forts, played jump-rope for hours, ran through the sprinklers, hung out at the city pool, engaged in raucous water-balloon battles, and topped the day off with a scary game of ghost in the graveyard. If we were inside, it was probably because it was raining. On those rare days, my brothers would build models in their rooms and I would play with my dolls or Barbies in mine. Basically, just try not to get on each other’s nerves. Our world—our fun—was whatever our over-active imaginations could dream up.
Now that you know all this, you can imagine my surprise YEARS later when, while sitting at my ‘real job’, a bunch of strange, insistent voices popped into my head. After a quick glance around, I confirmed I was, in fact, the only one hearing them. I opened a blank document on my laptop and started jotting down notes, frantically trying to exorcise the craziness until about two o’clock the next morning. That didn’t work—it simply ushered in more, as if I’d cracked open some sort of fictional character portal.
I decided I needed to learn how to write so I could create a home for all these new people in my life. How hard can it be? I mean, after all, I read my first romance when I was fifty-years old, ere go, I can surely write romance, right? As if! I was floundering, throwing words (too many words) on the page, clueless about what to do next.
With my husband’s encouragement—mostly because he thought I might be losing my mind—I joined a local writer’s group. At my second meeting, I read the first seven pages of my WIP, that means Work In Progress. I’m only telling you this because, at the time, I had no idea what WIP stood for. See what I mean? Clueless. Anyway, after reading it aloud, members were given the opportunity to provide their critique. I got a ‘Wow, that was great’, a ‘You’re a good writer’, and even an ‘I want to know what happens next’. Then I got a ‘This is fine, but it’s all backstory. It doesn’t belong in the book.’ Doesn’t belong? Backstory? What the heck is that?
I was crushed.
“I have no business being a writer,” I whined to my husband that night over my second glass of wine. I was convinced I should just destroy what I’d already written, learn to ignore the voices and find some other creative outlet.
Something you should know about me, I’m not a fan of quitters. So, I looked up what backstory meant and forced myself to go to the next meeting. When I arrived, Hanna Rhys Barnes, the woman who offered the brutally honest backstory critique, approached me. I stiffened my spine and stuck my chin in the air, ready to defend my story—even though I was wrong. She burst a hole in my not-so-righteous indignation when she said, “You’re a really good writer, but you could be better.” Then, to my shock and great joy, she offered to work with me.
“Hell, yes!” I exclaimed without knowing what I was getting myself into.
She spent countless hours teaching me everything from learning the difference between the types of POV’s (point of views), story and character development, to story structure and plotting. In between mimosas or glasses of really good wine, of course. Hey, everyone deserves a reward for their hard work!
I also started attending writers’ conferences, taking workshops online, reading books about the craft of writing and asking a bazillion questions. Next thing I knew, those random characters turned into a family, the family grew with the addition of lovers and friends, the family, lovers and friends turned into a fictional community. Voila, the small town of Whidbey Cove, Washington was created and the O’Halleran Security Int’l. romantic suspense series was born.
Had someone come up to me after I got that first painful critique seven years ago, and said, “TJ, I’ll bet you two thousand dollars you’ll be a published author by the end of 2019.” I would’ve jumped on that bet, laughed in their obviously deluded face, then immediately set about making a list of all the ways I was going to spend my windfall.
I am no longer an accidental writer—I am a legitimate author.
Good thing that bet never happened because I don’t happen to have an extra two thousand bucks laying around.