Monday, August 25, 2014

How Being a Writer Changes You

By Pamela

Cats at the vet
My girl asked me the other day, when I was a kid, what did I want to be. I remember my little self wanting to be a vet. I loved animals and still do, but when I learned about euthanasia, I changed my mind. Then, a fascination with the show Quincy, M.E. (starring Jack Klugman) gave me a brief aspiration to become a medical examiner. Then the thought of having to autopsy a child hit me, and that dream vanished, too. I still had a love of science, so I started college as a pre-pharmacy major. During my sophomore year, I decided spending my life behind a counter didn't sound too thrilling (and I was struggling with my anatomy class), so I changed majors to marketing. I didn't really plan to be a writer; rather the career found me. And now that I am, I realize how much my work affects my daily life; maybe yours too.

You no longer 'read for pleasure'

Sure, you can pick up a book and enjoy it, but every story is a lesson. You either marvel at the prose or become frustrated at the overuse of adverbs or cliched dialog. You no longer think 'this is a great story' but 'how did the writer pull this off?' You rarely read a book as a complete work but rather sit in awe at the pacing, the POV, the plot. Or maybe you reread books you once loved and think, 'Really? This isn't any good at all!' You also can't quiet your inner editor while reading (or on social media and someone types 'your so pretty' or any number of errors that makes you want to reach out and slap someone). Or maybe that's just me ...

The news becomes fodder for a story

You can't pick up the paper, watch TV or prowl the Web without deeming an interesting piece of news a potential story. Man burns down house while trying to kill a spider? Yep. Happens and wouldn't he make a great character in a novel? Woman discovers her husband was also her father? Ew, but yet it happened and, when you're in need of a good 'twist' in your novel, there you go. Jodi Picoult has made a career out of taking headline news items and crafting them into best-selling novels--Nineteen Minutes (school shooting), My Sister's Keeper (sibling marrow/organ donor), The Pact (teen suicide) and a dozen more. You might not write 'ripped from the headlines' stories, but you do keep an eye and an ear trained for news you can use--even if it's a juicy piece of gossip you hear from a neighbor. (Names changed, of course.)

You become more observant

A baby's velvet ear. 
You might not be the most poetic person in the room but you can't help staring at the burning sunset or watching two ambitious lizards wrangle a moth. You marvel at a baby's velvet ear or prefer a midsummer thunderstorm over a fireworks display. While the rest of the world stares at their phone screens, you prefer to watch the awkward college student attempt to talk to the pretty girl at the ballgame. If you're not working, you choose the table at the coffee shop nearest to the most eccentric-looking customers in hopes of overhearing some conversation.
Coffee shop patrons

You are constantly learning craft

My girl has recently taken to heart the phrase: You learn something new every day. And so she'll often ask me at night, "What did you learn today?" I nearly always have something to contribute. I know I'll never learn all there is to know about writing and have marveled at times that anything I wrote 10 years ago was even fit for public consumption. Part of your writing style is intuitive. You can't deny a certain giftedness you must possess. But I know I depend on my AP Stylebook to help me with an issue at least once every other week. I learn new words all the time--and then forget half of them, so they're 'new' again the next time we cross paths. I still can't explain to you what 'close third' is in POV even though it's been explained to me a few times. If you're reading, you're learning about writing. If you're writing, you're also learning by trial and error. Never stop learning ... that would mean you've either given up on writing or died. Either would make me sad.

You meet amazing people

When I moved to Texas nine years ago, I knew four people in my town ... and I'm related to all of them. It didn't take long before my homebodied-self ventured out to the library to take a class on writing taught by two authors--Britta Coleman and Candace Havens. At that class, I met a couple writers (who I still connect with via Facebook). From there I drove across uncharted freeways to Richardson Library for another gathering of writers and met Joan and Kim. (Best move EVER!!) It's amazing the number of people you meet while writing if you get out and explore. Visit writing groups, find a critique group, attend author signings, go to writing conferences. Sure you can discover a wealth of resources online, but making yourself reach out to like-minded individuals can keep you from giving up when the going gets rough. And who hasn't felt the urge to find a creative outlet that's less taxing on the ego?

These are just a few ways writing has changed me. How about you?

Flickr images of: 'cats at the vet' by Kami Jo; 'baby ear' by Tilman Zitzmann; 'coffee shop patrons' by Neo_II. 


  1. Writing has changed me because I have never been so happy to work at ANYTHING before. It's not work (even though it's sometimes so hard) - every struggle with finding the right word or brainstorming a plot or conjuring ways to kill someone off is a pleasure. Except rejection - that's not so great.

    1. Writing:Awesome. Rejection:Not Awesome. It does make you work harder, though, and that's the only way to look at it. I agree, Joan. There's nothing I'd rather be doing.


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