On writing

I remember when my parents decided to move to Mississippi. It was the year Mississippi Burning released in theaters. Coincidentally I had just finished reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It’s safe to say we all had some preconceived notions about the move. And it’s safe to say now that we have a bunch of funny and not-so-funny stories about how wrong and right those notions were, because that’s how preconceptions work.

But that’s not what keeps coming back to me now, as I poke at these particular memories. What I remember is that at the time (I was eleven) I thought of myself as quite a budding author, and I was absolutely convinced that what was finally going to make my novel take shape was a better setting. A hot, Southern setting, with snakes and mysterious woods and thunderstorms that heard your cries.

I remember sitting down and writing my heart out about characters I hadn’t developed who were inextricably tied to a setting I hadn’t seen myself.

Then I remember realizing that what I had written was absolute crap. And I’d read enough L.M. Montgomery to know why. Those of us born without genius levels of creativity can only write about what we know.

The reason this keeps coming back to me, I think, is that I didn’t realize how hard it would actually be to write what I knew, either. Especially this. I’m so worried about what I misunderstood, what I’ve forgotten, and what my own blinders obscured. I’m so worried about what other people will read, and if they’ll see themselves, and if they’ll mind.

But I’ve been sitting with these stories in my heart for 15 years and they need to be born. So I’m going to try, finally, to use my grown-up words.

Leave a Reply