No time like the present

"When did you start writing seriously? What made you start?"

Those are questions, I've noticed, that writers seem to get quite frequently. It's not surprising; writing as a craft, a hobby, a career, or an obsession is something that seems to non-writers to develop spontaneously. I think, in all honesty, that this is because to some degree or other everyone writes. Not everyone can draw or paint or sculpt; not everyone can excel at sports or music; not everyone will become a doctor or a lawyer. But most of us spend at least some time writing--yet many people find it an onerous chore, and wonder a little about people who assign themselves the equivalent of a three hundred page paper for fun on a regular basis.

Most writers will answer these questions truthfully, but in a lot of cases we're giving the questioner the condensed version. Casual conversations, quick interactions, and social media engagements don't allow for an in-depth answer. And yet these questions deserve some consideration.

My own answer starts the way many writers' answers do: I was a storyteller from a young age and wrote my first novella-length work beginning at age 15. Writing that little book was the first time I genuinely wished to be a writer someday, and many writers will point to a similar moment in their evolution.

Yet stopping there doesn't tell the whole story, because like most people I got away from writing for a while--at least, I got away from writing fiction. I was an English major in college; I wrote all the time, but I wrote long papers analyzing other people's writing. I rarely got to do anything creative in those years.

Fast forward a decade or so, and I was a married, stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of three wonderful daughters. I still told people I wanted to write someday. I still had notebooks with handwritten stories and scribbles of ideas for longer works. But I didn't have time; someday I would.

And then one day I had a conversation with an older woman. She was going to get back into art. Someday, she said.

I said, encouragingly, "Why not now?" It was a logical question: her children had been grown up and out of the house for years; her husband was slowly moving toward retirement; her time, from the perspective of a mom of three little girls very close in age, was clearly her own.

But she seemed startled by the question. "Oh, no. No, I can't," she said. And she listed all the reasons, which ranged from needing to take care of laundry and housework to her purely optional volunteer activities. "I'm much too busy," she said.

I pondered that later, when I was at home. It seemed to me that she was more afraid than busy, afraid to take up something that she'd put off all those years, afraid that it would be too difficult at her age to get back into something she had once loved, but had for so long neglected.

The thought frightened me. Would that happen to me, too? Would I wait until my youngest child was in college, or out of the house, or married with children to start writing again? And would I, then, use the excuse that I was much too busy too?

Then it hit me: I was already doing that. I truly had been too busy during the years when I had three tiny girls in diapers, but I was not that busy now. Our homeschooling days were relatively easy at their early grade levels. They had unstructured play time and still took afternoon naps. I, myself, wasn't too busy to write--it just felt that way.

So I started writing during the girls' nap times and afternoon play time. I wrote a 400-page sci-fi monstrosity that will never see the light of day. But we've all got a really bad book in us, and it's pretty good to get it out of the way right at the start.

I pondered my next project for a while. Then a friend told me about National Novel Writing Month and encouraged me to sign up. "Are you crazy?" I asked him. "We're six days into November already, and I have out-of-town company coming for Thanksgiving. I can't possibly write fifty thousand words!"

But later I thought: that's just another excuse. So I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time. Twenty-four days later I had a 64,000 word first draft of a book that eventually became The Telmaj, the first book in my Tales of Telmaja series.

And now, thirteen years later, I've got fourteen self-published books, two completed manuscripts that will be published by years' end, and one book to write in April (I plan to write in July and November, too). I also have three more uncompleted monstrosities. These things happen. But I love it. I love writing; I love publishing; I love finding out that a reader has loved my books.

My answer to the questions "When did you start writing seriously? What made you start?" isn't going to be everyone's answer. Our lives are all as different as our works-in-progress. But if you're still hovering on the edge of that leap of faith that leads to the moment when you can finally say, "Yes, I'm a writer!" then let me encourage you to let go of all the "somedays" you can, and try to start right now. There really is no time like the present.

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