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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My Path To Writing

I was inspired to write this by a recent post from Trick Falls on writing inspirations. I haven't always wanted to be a writer, though I have nearly always written. When I was a child, I used to mess around with drawing house plans and I thought I might want to be an architect. My high school art teacher finally put an end to that when I was 14 by requesting that I not waste her time by returning the following year. (Shame really, I enjoyed art, but even I must admit that drawing wasn't my strong point.) I also enjoyed playing with Meccano and experimenting with buildings, but it would have helped if I'd had either a good science teacher (for the laws of physics) or some aptitude for scientific subjects. But I didn't. So that left me with words.

Don't get me wrong, words were not something that I settled for in lieu of the other two options. In fact, they had been a part of my life for as long as I remember. My mother remembers me as a little girl who never stopped talking. And what I remember is that as soon as I started getting pocket money (maybe around the age of seven), I started spending it on books.

I was a voracious reader. I started with Enid Blyton, moved on to Richmal Compton (William stories), Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Biggles and various children's classics. Once I'd exhausted those, I took a brief swing through some teenage fiction (Judy Blume and the like), before heading for my parents' bookshelf. Now they had a lot of books. There were books in the hallway, in the dining room, in their bedroom and in every spare space, so I was happy. At first I took the books I was allowed to read (lots of mysteries - Agatha Christie, Nero Wolfe etc) and then I raided the shelf for other books (Jacqueline Susan among others). Don't worry, I was quite a bit older than seven by this time. Not everything I read was great literature, but it made me appreciate a good story. And though my reading tastes have changed, I still do.

The reason I mention this is because most writers worth their salt are also readers. So reading was a crucial part of my development as a writer. (And let me take a moment to plug Scrabble. I started playing the junior version at around six and the adult version at eight with my grandfather. There's nothing like it for enouraging a love of words and boosting your vocabulary.)

At school, I always enjoyed writing stories, but I never thought much about that enjoyment. There were two experiences that set me on the road to writing. One was pleasant, the other not. The first one was growing up with an alcoholic father. By the time I was 15 I had a lot of anger and sadness to write out and that's when I started writing poetry and keeping a journal. I'm not saying it was any good, but it was writing. The second thing was becoming co-editor of the school newspaper at 17. Now, this was in the old days. We used a Gestetner machine, commissioned people to do illustrations by hand and got covered in ink. That was when I first felt the thrill of writing for publication and managing a magazine. I really loved it.

But I'm slow on the uptake sometimes. So I did nothing more than the occasional poem while I was at university and away in France. When I got back home, a local paper was looking for someone with language skills. I applied, got it and started work as a journalist. In that job and in all my other journalism jobs, I got to write about a variety of things and to do a variety of publishing related tasks. Although I didn't always like my bosses, I loved the job.

Then came my last boss. He was a bully and for the first time, I contemplated leaving journalism. So when a chance came to teach it at university, I jumped at the chance, thinking that I could freelance as well. That didn't work out, because of the amount of preparation a new teacher has to do and then childbirth and motherhood.

Throughout this time, I'd continued to write the occasional poem, but it was when I went back to work after maternity leave that it struck me. I wasn't happy. I wanted to write full time (or at least part-time so I could spend time with my daughter). Finally, a year ago I made the jump after listing the pros and cons. The pros were that I had lots of experience as a writer and would be able to work from home doing what I loved. The cons were that I didn't have many recent contacts and I might not make any money for a year.

So now, here we are. I'm getting paid to write and I'm happy. Inspiration is all around me. My daughter has inspired children's stories (five to date) and poetry. My nomadic life has inspired books on moving (still half-finished). And blogging at WritingUp has inspired lots and lots of writing, most of which you have seen.

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