On Writing

Many words written in journals and on scraps of paperI’ve been addicted to the written word forever.  I blame it on my father’s mother, who read to me soon as I was old enough to appreciate it.  She sat me on her lap and followed the words with her finger, and that’s how I learned to read (for a very brief while I could read some Swedish, too).  

I’m not sure when I started writing, but it wasn’t long before I submitted my first story to be published in my school’s creative writing publication.  That was a long, long time ago, but I never stopped either reading or writing.  I’m not sure I could do so and stay sane because TV and movies just don’t make it for me.  I haven’t lived with a TV in my house since 1993 and I don’t stream either.

photo URL https://public.fotki.com/hypoint/arabians/arabian_album_cmk/bennasrif17317378cs.html

Me & Ben Nasrif on the endurance trail in the 1980s

I wrote about horses a lot in the 1980s and 1990s because we were breeding and endurance racing our Arabian horses then.  Somewhere amidst all the junk I’ve got stored I’ve got stacks of magazines with the equivalent of blog posts in them — mostly stories about how I screwed up, since that seems to be the most entertaining kind of story of all.  Like the time we drove half a day to a ride camp, only for me to discover I had forgotten to bring my saddle.  Ha ha. I was the camp entertainment as I walked from rig to rig hoping someone had brought an extra saddle that would work for me and my horse.

It was around then that I ventured into my first self-publishing experience, creating trail guides for the biggest, toughest 100 mile endurance race in the world — The Tevis Cup — which uses the trans-Sierra portion of the Western States Trail. I sold more copies than I expected and actually recovered the publication costs.  

It wasn’t till after 9/11 that I turned pro — and that was only because I couldn’t stand one more day of my brief stint as a substitute teacher (sorry, but I just do not like kids).  I have no idea why the newspaper hired me, but suddenly I was a reporter and feature story writer for a weekly regional here in western New Mexico. My beat was the county I live in — all 7000 square miles of it.  I attended every meeting I could get to, showed up at every accident that I found out about, covered every oddball incident I could discover — but best of all, I interviewed a lot of… um… fascinating locals.  My county is full of them.  

Fast forward to spending about a decade writing for a natural resource research and analysis institute in southern New Mexico, and then a few years after that of working as a contract writer for my county (and several others). The politics of it — OMG. It was worse than being around kids all day. So I waved goodbye to a real income and, with the help of NaNoWriMo, plunged into writing novels.

Note that breaking into the field of fiction writing is not something I recommend for anyone who plans on supporting themselves or their family.  I could do it because I was by this time a senior citizen and receiving Social Security.  It’s not going to be a get-rich quick scheme for me, since I only recently found a publisher for one of the two novels I’ve completed (Evolution Device).  But besides a few self-published chapbooks and two (2) short stories , that’s it.  And yet I’m writing all the time.

Writing is not what I do, it’s what I am.  A state of being. Lines of dialogue and narrative float through my brain as I scoop horse poop, a mindless task that has become a kind of meditation for me.  Some of what free-associates its way into my consciousness is actually useful. Sometimes it just gets lost, like dreams upon waking. Ideas come from all over the place. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and get caught staring. I smile and find something else to look at, but I really wasn’t staring so much as forgetting to look away.  A story has captured my attention, you see — sparked by the person, or the conversations around me, or who knows what — and it’s unfolding in my mind and I’m lost to the real world.

I have a tiny field notes book with me almost all the time, though I seem to more often end up scribbling ideas on the backs of envelopes, receipts, or paper napkins. I’ve found that dictating my thoughts to my phone as I hike works, too. When I get home I put the phone’s speaker next to my laptop’s mic, open Google Docs to a new document, click on Tools/Voice Typing, and let Google do the transcribing.  Oh yes, the transcription is ugly — Google is a riot with its interpretations of what I’ve said, not to mention all the oh sh*ts and ums and backtracking and such — but at least I’ve got someplace to start.

I may have been born to write, but that doesn’t make it easy. Those words bubbling around inside are delicate things that need to be lured onto the screen or paper. Skittish things that will dissipate if handled roughly. Elusive and shy, even when they demand attention. They can’t be forced, but they can’t be ignored, either.

Writing is like being a slave to words.