My obsession with writing actually started as a love for literature. The majority of my early and secondary education was structured around reading the great classics; my parents tell me I was five when I first read Beowulf. I’m sure it went way over my head, but I fell in love with the rhythms and cantor of well-crafted prose. Any talents I have for writing can probably be traced back to the sheer amount of time I have spent immersed in great writing.
It really didn’t cross my mind until later that I would ever be a writer, I mean, I wrote creative pieces here and there growing up, and loved writing papers in college, but beyond that I didn’t delve into writing until a few years after college. One of my English professors once gave me a critique I never forgot; I had written a paper analyzing Voltaire’s Candide and he wrote in red pencil at the top, “This is great, but you write like a stuffy English butler from the mid 19th century! I want to hear your voice.” It made me laugh at the time, and it was years before I understood what he meant, and years after that before I finally discovered and settled into my own voice.
Songwriting was my first creative endeavor in both the world of music and writing. It really changed my life and broke down a lot of barriers of what I thought I could and couldn’t do. My songwriting was kickstarted by an epic breakup; I was surprised to watch my pain process itself in these ideas that seemed to come from nowhere, starting as fragmented melodies that came into my head as I was driving. I remember the feeling I had when that first song was complete; it was like it had come from outside of me, like I had only listened and transcribed. It still feels that way no matter what it is I am creating. One thing led to another and soon I had a band that played around Portland. That painful season was the catalyst of a new, fuller life for me centered around creativity.
After I moved to the South and left my band, I took a hiatus from songwriting and dabbled in poetry. To me it was a very similar feeling to songwriting, because it was a fluid platform that was abstract in a way that allowed for a greater depth of meaning. I started an achingly sad series called “The Walls That Jack Built,” that I could only write pieces for when I was feeling really down, so I suppose it’s a good sign that two years later it remains half finished. I always knew when I was about to write poetry, because something in me felt in danger of imploding; the pieces came unplanned and complete in one sitting. I don’t know how good they were, but they helped me hold emotions and experiences that felt cold and two dimensional when explained in prose.
A year later, I began a new project, writing childhood stories from memory. They started to take shape into a narrative, but I had no plans at the time to make them into a book. It was my first attempt at prose and I was surprised at how easy it came and how much I enjoyed it. I had this idea that dialogue would be my downfall because everyone always talks about how hard it is, like it’s impossible. These stories were my first attempts stepping across the line to see if I could write dialogue, or learn how to do it. I was surprised to find it came pretty naturally.
I discovered my first ghostwriting job through a freelance writing website that I use that pairs writers with clients who need writing services. I was brand new to the site and didn’t have any reviews to recommend me yet, so I honestly didn’t think there was much of a chance that I would be chosen. There were many writers bidding with much more writing experience than I had and many were career ghostwriters.
The bidders were given a rough sketch of what the first scene would be and asked to write it out in 300 words as a sample of their work. It was a great scene with a dream sequence that I really enjoyed writing. I didn’t have a chance to worry about the fact that I had no earthly idea how to write a novel if they chose me; it all happened so quickly once they made their decision.
There were many challenging parts. The ghostwriting world is a strange one. My client did not speak English as a first language and was not a reader (I know, it’s ironic), which was challenging. Convincing him out of ideas that were unreadable was difficult. He gave me a 20-page outline which I had 45 days to turn into a 250 page manuscript. There was a point A and a point B in the outline that I was able to keep in tact, but besides that, I might as well have been working from scratch. It would have been easier in some ways if I had been working from scratch.
After I finished the manuscript, a screenplay writer picked it up and wanted to make it into a movie. He added plot twists and scenes, inserting his language atop of mine. It was a disaster. At the end of the summer the client sent the novel back to me and begged me to rewrite it with the new plot twists for the movie in mind. He gave me a team of two stellar editors and seven days. It was insane. That was by far the most challenging part. The only reason I jumped back in was because I was attached to the characters and couldn’t leave the story so dismantled.
The end result was pretty awesome, and I plan on working with those editors again in the future. The client ended up offering me a writing credit (which is rare in the ghostwriting world) which I ended up turning down for personal reasons and legal concerns.
The actual writing. I couldn’t believe how effortless fiction was; I mean, yes, I was working really hard and crazy hours, but there was a component to the writing itself that felt effortless, like all I had to do was show up. Like magic. I have a lot of imagination, and it was like the characters existed long before I set them down; it seemed all that was required of me was to learn their stories. I would set my alarm every morning for 5:20AM and write 8 hours, then leave to go teach and write more when I got home; on the weekends I was writing 30 hours. That might sound miserable, but I was so happy because I loved writing. It felt as if I lived outside of time. That was when I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
I had 45 days to complete the manuscript including applied edits and initial proofing. It was intense. I thought the deadline would be the hardest part, but in a way it made everything easier. You gain a lot of inertia when you work on something for such large stretches of time. That’s true for any pursuit. Having a deadline gives you permission to dedicate more time to your craft than you might have felt free to without a deadline.
I think it’s a mistake to think that discipline and creativity cannot coexist. In my experience, inspiration favors those who are already showing up to work. It was said that Victor Hugo locked himself in his apartment naked for six months, instructing his friends not to give him his clothes back until he had finished his manuscript. Six months later he emerged with the brilliant masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I don’t know that I could. The other day I was at the library in the fiction section at “F” for Faulkner and right below his row was a whole shelf of books dedicated to a series of books about shirtless pirates. It seems to be the sort of mainstream thing that sells these days so, no, I’m not very tempted to write what sells. I mean, I don’t have anything against pirates, but I wouldn’t have any interest in writing something that didn’t matter on a deeper level to me.
Getting to spend my days doing what I love is the point, not being famous or even making money doing it. The very act of writing makes me happy and having the time and freedom to dedicate to creativity makes me feel as if my life is already successful regardless of whether anything I write or create sells.
It has been a while since I started my novel and it has really changed since its inception. It is now a book within a book. It follows a writer named Charlotte, who is writing a book about a little girl named Charlee and her family in the Midwest. In the story both the writer and the little girl are struggling to make sense of growing up and what it all means. It’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster, with stories about love and adventures that made me miss being a kid and will hopefully help the reader rediscover wonder and acceptance for the unfolding journey that is life.