Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Journey as a Writer and Quote of the Week

When I was about eleven, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I took a pad of paper and a pencil and settled myself on the floor under the family room window and prepared to write my first story.

I think I wrote three sentences, got bored, and ran off to play touch football with the neighbors.

The next time I tried to write a fictional story was in my college creative writing course, and then I wasn't writing a story because I wanted to; it was an assignment. I remembered an old story my aunt had written in college at SDSU years before about a flea named Spike, so I wrote a sequel to her story. Not a creative assignment on my part, but it was the best I could do with fiction writing.

Since then, I've written nonfiction and poetry. I've published two books, but both times in an editorial capacity; the first was a collection of scholarly essays I helped to publish in grad school, and the second was a new Book of Common Prayer for the Reformed Episcopal Church. I also started writing poetry in high school, kept writing poetry in college (and was editor of both literary magazines in high school and college), but once I started grad school, the poetry writing tapered off slowly to nothing.

Once I completed graduate school, I was too busy to write; instead, I was researching and designing lesson plans for teaching college courses and the only writing I was doing was in the margins of student essays and exams. Then kids came along, with five pregnancies within eight years resulting in four wonderful children and a difficult and heartbreaking miscarriage. Obviously with a houseful of children and the decision to educate them at home, I had no time to write.

In 2006 I met two amazing women. Smart women. Writing women. Poets, actually: Kitty and Judith. And I was drawn back into the poetic vortex and started composing poems again. I had re-embarked on the writing journey.

In the fall of 2008 I did something that still shocks me. Along with a number of women from a self-education forum, I joined the melee of NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. The idea of writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days--the month of November--was daunting enough, but fiction writing? Me? It didn't seem like a promising combination.

But then I remembered something I read from Christian writer Brian McLaren: he turned an autobiographical journey into a fictional novel which because a well-known book, A New Kind of Christian. And I thought that I could do the same. I could chronicle my journey from evangelical to Anglican via a novel. So I made up a character that was part me and part several women I admired greatly, and I went for it. In November of 2008, I wrote those 50,000 words in thirty days, thus drafting the first half of the novel. In 2009 I committed to NaNoWriMo again, this time drafting the second half of the novel. The join between the two is very rough, as is the entire book; if I ever go back to work on it, it will need massive editing and expanding.

But I had done it. I had written fiction. And writing fiction in the carefree drafting mode of NaNoWriMo was strangely freeing. Although fiction writing always seemed like it was outside my skill set as a writer/editor, I found writing from the top of my head, no outline on paper or plan in mind until I wrote scenes into existence, totally invigorating.

I skipped NaNoWriMo in 2010, opting for a poetry challenge instead. But also in November of 2010,  a hair-raising idea grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. I don't know how I got there, but I landed on an unfamiliar website called Wattpad. And there, amongst all of the different writing genres of historical fiction, science fiction, teen fiction, thrillers, horror, poetry, etc., I saw "fan fiction." And in that moment, an idea was born, and I started writing a story under a pen name, publishing one chapter per week on Wattpad; my tale takes place between the first and second books of the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Obviously, fan fiction based on copyrighted material cannot be published for sale, but I found myself intrigued by the characters and what I could add to those mysterious three months between the books. And slowly other people became interested, too.

Eventually that story became a novel of 140,000 words and 56 chapters. Currently that first fan fiction novel has received over 600,000 "reads" (hits) on Wattpad, and I completed it one week shy of a year after I started it, during NaNoWriMo 2011. A second fan fiction novel, which presents a whole new Twilight story, is even more successful at 40 chapters this week (I'm working on the 41st) and nearly 550,000 reads. I've also written three short stories based directly on the Twilight books, retelling a few incidents from Edward's point of view rather than Bella's (as the original novels are written). On Wattpad alone (I also have posted the stories on I've garnered nearly 1.2 million reads. I spend almost a day after posting a new chapter responding to comments and reviews on the two sites (fan mail, basically). And I also am thrilled to be able to mentor some young writers on Wattpad and as well.

In fact, I'll be teaching a new four-week Fan Fiction Writing class at Brave Writer starting July 9!! It's going to be so much fun leading young people into writing fan fiction about characters from their favorite books, movies, television shows, and even video games and music groups.  Fan fiction is a wonderful way to coax reluctant writers to write, especially in the summer. It's fun, creative, low-pressure, and is very popular among teens...who are most of my readers. :)

So in light of this post on writing, I thought I'd share a quotation that I saw on Twitter only yesterday that inspired me greatly:
"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." ~Richard Bach
Isn't that a wonderful thought? I may "only" be writing fan fiction, but I also have hopes of pushing beyond the unpaid writing of fan fiction and write some original fiction as well; time will tell. But until then, I have another chapter to post by tonight, so I'd better get cracking! Fan fiction readers can become quite impatient while waiting for a new chapter; I've instant-messaged with readers who were staying up all night on the East Coast, waiting for my next chapter to be posted at 1:00 AM here in California. (I revise each chapter several times before posting, so it takes a while to get a "finished" chapter ready for publication.) 

Enjoy the journey, my friends~


Anabelle Hazard said...

What a great blog. Actually, I wanted to write on your writing book list post and your blogging tips post but couldn't find the comment button. (I'm new at blogging) Thank you for the tips. I'm reading Woe is I and sitting on the fence on STephen King's On Writing. Not a fan of horror but if you say its a good one, I'm getting it. I'll be back to read the rest of your archives.

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks, Anabelle! The Stephen King book is really only about the writing process. Some of his books are more sci-fi, such as the one I'm reading now called Under the Dome. His language is a bit...creative (i.e., curse words), but he has some *wonderful* advice for writers as he discusses the joys and challenges of being a writer. I do recommend it. However, I recommend both Bird by Bird by Lamott and On Becoming a Writer more heartily than King's book. :) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

~Susanne :)


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