Sparked by Words

At first I was nothing more than ack. Holy mother of all things holy, it’s a baby, and he’s a – wait – oh boy – it’s a girl! ACK.

First mistake.

Because this is a story about how I came to write stories.

I wasn’t always a writer. This is an important distinction between me and others who write. Many authors claim they’ve always been a writer. Not me. First I was a nothing, a sea sponge sucking up salt and brine, sputtering to breathe. Rose to the top of the swells, opened my lungs for oxygen, and wailed. Like a starfish, I grew arms. Ears, actually, eyes, a tummy, a mouth, tongue, hands and feet. I learned to listen, to see, to hurt when hungry, to taste, to cry, to grasp and kick.

Eventually I learned I was not the whole world. Mother, father, bird mobile, shiny things, puppies, other people, cold or warm air, blankets, linoleum floor, grass. Thunderous noises (scared the hell out of me,) barely perceptible warning sirens (hurt my infant ears,) music, speech. Sensed anger and mystery. Understood neither though both gave me colic. Light that blinded, darkness that prevented sight. Rocking motion let me sleep.

Bitter, sweet, salty, sour – hardly anything prevented me from trying to eat stuff even if the sensation was distasteful. Rain dripping on my face, snow burning my fingers, ocean waves tumbling me into sand, rocks tripping my wobbly steps, grass cushioning my falls.

Not even aware of that momentous first step though I must have championed the skill. Not on camera. They actually had cameras back when I was born but not cell phones capturing every single moment and lots you wish they hadn’t. So, no photo of my very first land-on-my-punim step. I still walk, sometimes dance, hike, run, trip, fall, get up and walk again.

Listened for a year until I began to speak. Language, a world unto itself. Not even sure why I first spoke English. Could have chosen Chinese or Spanish, nearly useless on the East Coast of the US in the 1950s, but so convenient in today’s world. I would have been presciently prepared. Stupid baby girl.

Drew squiggles and shapes, then letters. Then words, sentences, paragraphs. Story.

First stories were not stories at all. Write what you know. This is me. This is mommy. This is daddy. Here is our house. Between identification of the landmarks of my world was a story about all those already intricate relationships, but I had no ability to organize them into a plot.

Around second grade my first real stories began to take shape. Fantastical, loosely organized, lacking internal logic, peopled with bizarre characters. All the primal experiences of me sensing me, and then the separation of me from the world led to stories.

The magic began. From nebulous impressions of how the world should be – nice, neat, sweet, kind – to how it really was – dirty, nasty, unfair, unpredictable – I wrote. My wand was a yellow number 2 Dixon Ticonderoga, zipping along the lines of a blank sheet of paper. In the margins I drew illustrations – early graphic novels.

Once in a while a teacher read my stories aloud. If the rest of the class wasn’t awed by my skills, I was still thrilled at my minute in the limelight. My efforts earned A grades and I’m relieved that none have survived. Around fourth grade I started hearing the word writer and – ZAP! – I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.

School got tough, my social life tougher, distractions and obligations led me along the typical adolescent/young adult trajectory. I schooled for a long time, in classrooms, over hill and dale, sequestered in my room. College diploma finally in hand (actually in a drawer somewhere), married with children, working a Chinese menu of jobs, the stories dwindled to ideas I had no time to write.

Until one day I began again and wrote for the next six months, producing what I was certain was a masterful children’s book. I sent it off to an agent and got back my first rejection notice. Should have known, I’d been warned, that the book wasn’t polished enough to clean the table, much less make it to print. The brief note convinced me I’d wasted everyone’s time and brought me to a full stop. What was I thinking? I could write a shopping list. I could not write a book.

So I put away the yellow pencil and set on a course as an art teacher. Nearly three decades of teaching kids, a career I’m proud of. Until the writing bug nudged me again. Now I had a really fancy pencil: a computer. In the past fifteen years, I’ve written four novels. Women’s commercial literature, if you have to know. I dislike the genre name but detest the more common title: chick lit. That’s a prickly discussion for another time.

I do love every aspect of writing except for one. I really hate the murky territory of trying to find an agent. So, I’m back at ACK now, Leave her alone, she’s writing a book, and trying to find my way to ZAP, Well, would you look at that – she really did write a book, and here it is.

No, not there yet, but still trying. This time, I won’t give up until the words The End are printed at the bottom of my published novel. Take that, Harry Potter – ZAP!

 

Photo of little girl at Camp Lejeune getting a magic wand from magician Jeff Jones, courtesy Pfc. Joshua Grant

 

Comments on: "From Ack to Zap and Back Again" (41)

  1. The pile of rejections is really disheartening, isn’t it? There is always the option to self-publish nowadays, but then what of the zillion hours needed to market and promote (something i hate even more). It’s hard enough selling art, but selling books…Sigh…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Four books–you are close to publishing them, Shari, I can just feel it. That’s how many I had in my lower desk drawer (the one that sticks when i try to open it) before getting them out there.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Jenna Barwin said:

    I love being part of your journey. Thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A writer’s journey is long and complicated, Shari. Even with my little ebook published I call myself a photographer before a writer. Your writing is impeccable and your destination is clear before you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. it amazes me how these rejections from absolute strangers can sink so deep – even knowing this, it’s hard to be immune…

    Like

    • We put so much hope into the query that we intend will open publication doors for us. They are strangers but we’ve asked their opinion about what we consider our common area of interest. To be rejected is to feel we’ve failed.
      Daal, you’ve had success in the writing world – how do you feel about the process?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was a journalist – much different from fiction & creative writing. as a freelancer & as a staff writer, one pitches an idea, then writes only upon approval. fiction is leap of faith — for my novels, I mailed & emailed prob 80 letters, all with no ‘success’, hence self-publishing…

        Like

      • Thanks for the explanation about the difference between writing fiction, which I guess is all speculative and imaginative, and staff writing for an established business. The query process is near to soul-destroying from what I’ve heard. My one try confirmed it. Wishing you good luck on your books, Daal.

        Liked by 1 person

      • likewise, dear – luck has a lot to do with it, me thinks

        Like

      • Probably, yes, but also fitting the category they’re looking to fill at the moment, based on what they think will sell.

        Liked by 1 person

      • intellectually (alas our hearts don’t listen tho) who knows why we’re rejected? could be for zillion reasons that have nothing to do with our talent…

        Like

      • Nothing to do with talent or even with what might be reader affection, but all to do with how much money we writers can make for the industry. Also, a writer has to make a connection with an agent who knows their genre.

        From what I’ve read about writers even a hundred years ago, even they had a tough time getting published – was never easy, though the field is now very crowded.

        Liked by 1 person

      • somehow, though, there are a lot of books around – fingers crossed that yours & mine get lots of readers ❤

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      • Daal, you are right about this. Lots of books – hoping for readers. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Like you, Shari, I wasn’t always a writer. I was also that “nothing”. I went through several phases before it dawned on me that I really do like to write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glynis, I’m so pleased that you know that you are NOT nothing, that you’re a wonderful person and a writer who has something important to say in your work. We may be late bloomers but we have vibrant blossoms.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Shari, first congratulations on writing four books! 😀 That is a huge achievement! I was immersed in your story of how you came to writing! It is strange, or perhaps not, how our first written pieces are our family, where we live – putting our roots down on paper! The magic definitely happens when we discover fiction … the joy of creating new truths! It is tough finding agents, dealing with rejections. I’ve tried on and off for quite a number of years. Then going to book talks, I learnt the other day how one successful writer today tried for over twenty years before finding an agent, then very quickly a publisher. I wish you the best of luck with your endevours, please don’t give up! Your writing is always compelling, captivating and this is a huge genre (and yep, don’t get me on about ‘labels’ etc). Many thanks for sharing your journey, dreams … and yes, you are a writer! ❤️

    Like

    • Annika, you are a cheering section all by yourself. Thank you for your words of encouragement. We think we’re unique in how we become writers, and maybe we are, but it’s the stories we tell that are one-of-a-kind. This is why I love to read as well as write. And I still create art.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with Annika–writing four books is no small achievement! How many people say they’re going to write a (single) book, and they never even finish that.

    I’m of course all in favor of self-pubbing, but I wish you nothing but success in whatever avenue you pursue. Just let us know when we can finally grab a copy. : )

    Like

    • It’s most likely I will self-publish but I’m not a great businessman and I’m technically deficient. I guess I want someone else to do the tedious work. Actually, I’ve learned a great deal about the practical end of publishing from your experiences on your blog, and I’m grateful for all you’ve generously shared. Thank you for that, Cathleen.

      Like

  9. Sharon, I missed this post of yours. Enjoyed reading your story of how you became a writer (or rather, discovered that you already were a writer!) Your talent is obvious and I hope someday soon you’ll find that agent. Wow, four novels just waiting.
    Btw, I could line a wall with rejection slips from years ago. That seems to be standard for most all writers. Don’t ever let them discourage you! ❤️

    Like

    • I now know that rejection slips are part of the process, but that first one dashed my courage. I’m sorry you’ve gotten such a pile of them, Betty, as I know your poetry is excellent. Every one viscerally touches me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m honored by your kind words, Sharon. It was from the late 60’s through to the early 80’s when I was trying to market my writing. Actually sold a few short stories, articles and poems to small magazines (enough to pay for all the postage, paper, etc.). But my writing was never that good to make it to the big markets. Then I quit trying when life became too busy after a divorce.
        Your writing is much better than mine ever was and I have confidence you’ll get published before long. You certainly deserve to be published! Don’t ever give up

        Like

      • I have to disagree with you, Betty. Your poetry is luminous. I’m deeply touched by the connections you make, the imagery you present.

        I really don’t think there’s a legitimate way to gauge quality. What moves one person may be an extraordinary piece of work that doesn’t engage another viewer. The big disconnect between publication and art (of any kind) is that one is a business and the other is a creative journey. There are many famous writers whose work I’ve never read, and many books I’ve been passionate about that no one else has ever heard of.

        I’m not giving up, but I may decide that self-pubbing is the best way for me to get my stories out there. And I look forward to reading your poems every week.

        Like

      • I agree with you about the subjectivity of quality when it comes to writing. Guess it’s all about what makes us resonate and what doesn’t.
        And I’m honored once again by your kind words and your support, Sharon. I feel the same way about everything you write. (Forgive me for always being behind in reading!)

        Like

      • Please, Betty, don’t apologize – I’m always behind on reading other blogs – that’s why I often binge read blogs – it’s easier to read several entries at one time.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Take that, Harry Potter – here comes Shari!! 😄 I think it’s actually a good sign you weren’t a writer from the very beginning, he also didn’t have a clue he was a wizard, and look what he has achieved. 😉 (okay, with a little help from his friend J.K. Rowling )
    I often wonder if authors who say that they started at an early age truly did that or just say it because it sounds so good afterwards.

    Like

    • I actually started writing stories about 6 or 7 years but I’m sure other folks started much younger. I have a story my son wrote when he was 3. Though he’s a physicist, he still writes beautifully.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t think it matters when people become writers- especially when they write like you! But really, I think the ups and downs are relatable to every writer.

    And I could definitely have a good long chat about “chick lit” and how it’s unfairly maligned 😉

    Like

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