Friday, April 27, 2018

The Blessings of Ignorance

Truth is, I don't know a thing about writing. With four mysteries (soon five) two historical novels and a non-fiction academic book under my belt, I'm amazed at how little I've learned. Looking back, I'm convinced the best thing that ever happened to me was there was no one around to either encourage or discourage me.

My natural calling was reading. I simply read all the time. It didn't bother my parents or anyone else until society came up with the concept that children should be well-rounded. Then my parents worried. Because it didn't seem quite normal for a child to read that much.  

No problem. I learned to hide my reading. I propped up a book in the drain rack when I dried dishes. There was a book in my music when I played the piano. Yes, I could easily read while my fingers practiced the scales, or whatever. To this day, I'm never without a book.

Do not assume that I was a shy retiring child. In fact I liked other children, and adored adults. During my childhood, one of my biggest pleasures was listening to my father and uncles and their friends tell stories.

No one supervised my reading. When my parents played bridge with Aunt Margaret and Uncle Clarence I headed for the living room and Aunt Margaret's collection from the Doubleday Book Club. What luxury! And such a good little nine-year-old. Never any trouble. But what a brouhaha when they discovered that I had already read Annie Jordan, Unconquered, and Forever Amber.

If someone has asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was nine years old, in my secret heart, I knew I wanted to write books. But saying so would have sounded crazy. I didn't know one single soul who was a writer. I didn't know how one became a writer.

My husband and I were both born in Anderson County, Kansas. When we married, we moved to Western Kansas. He was a truck driver and hauled cattle. A bullhauler. My creative side responded to the vastness of the Kansas prairie. I was certainly free from any social constraints. There was no one to tell me I read too much. I could open the back door and holler if I wanted to. Or eat ice cream. Or go fishing.

Or I could write a book. No one to stop me from doing that either.

I began writing for real when I was about twenty-two or twenty-three. Somewhere in there. I taught myself from articles in the Writer's Digest and from books I ordered through Interlibrary Loan. Although I've never had a creative writing course, my self-education was lengthy and very rigorous. I've never been in a writing group.

Because my "method" is rather strange and seems to vary from book to book, I simply cannot imagine reading part of a manuscript to people who might offer suggestions. Praise or criticism would be destructive during the creative stage. I don't even know who will show up for a book until I'm through with the first draft. It's a work in progress.

I remain convinced that everyone should write a book twice before showing it to anyone. If you have any integrity at all, you will know what's wrong with your own book. So fix it. Then let other people read it. If they have good suggestions that you know are right, apply their ideas. The quickest people to offer criticism will come from people who have never published a book themselves.

My first novel was published by Simon & Schuster. If there were anyone at all around to tell me how hard it was to find an agent, get published, learn how to write, I never would have tried. On the other hand, I really needed a mentor. I've made a lot of mistakes. I would love to take them back. But that applies to a number of missteps in my life.


Irene Bennett Brown said...

Oh, my goodness, Charlotte. Loved this post. I can identify with so much of it--knowing young that I wanted to be a writer for one thing. When I left 8th grade and registered for high school, I was given a card on which I could write my goal. I wrote 'Author'. Then, embarrassed to presume such a thing, I erased until there was a hole in the card. (Still feel guilty about the destruction.)

Donis Casey said...

Fantastic! This is practically a duplicate of my story, as well. It's a good thing you persevered. I'd hate to think what the world would have missed.

Mario Acevedo said...

Great post. So true.