Neither of my parents graduated from high school. Books, besides a set of encyclopedias that a pushy salesman sold my mother, were not a part of my early life. In fact, it wasn’t until I discovered authors wrote about horses that I even showed interest in books. And I only remember my mother reading to me once. Her voice was roughened by cigarette smoke but clear and even. My father died when I was three.
I wasn’t much of a student, either. Since education hadn’t been a great experience for my mom, she went AWOL when it came to asking about homework assignments or upcoming tests. If she wasn’t concerned about –ough words, I sure wasn’t going to break a sweat over a spelling test.
By ninth grade, I was relegated to “low” classes. I told my math teacher, with a straight face, that I didn’t need to learn math because I was going to be an entertainer. To her credit, she didn’t laugh in my face. Summer classes didn’t help. Nothing made sense.
Right before the end of my ninth grade year, aching to be loved by a boy, any boy, I decided I would do anything, anything, to have a boyfriend. Just as I was working up my gumption, my mother announced we were moving to be closer to my married sister.
My plans were ruined. (Thank you, Jesus.)
We didn’t have limitless minutes in those days to talk on the phone. To stay in touch with friends, I wrote letters with a pen and paper. Lots of them. Long, long letters about the agony of being a teenager in a beach town with no friends. Fog. Sand. More fog.
I was so desperate for interaction with other teens, I attended a church youth group. At that time, God was only a quaint idea for me. We’d stopped going to church when my father died. Now, I was reading about God’s love in a book I didn’t even recognize as a Bible. Deciding that God was better than a pimply boyfriend, I crawled into bed one night and said yes to Jesus.
My letters changed. My girlfriend let her mother read them, and the mother actually called (we called it telephoned) me to say I should be a writer. A writer? Writers knew how to type with more than one finger. They read books and knew big words they could spell. Also, they smoked cigarettes and traveled to exotic places. At least, that’s what the writers in movies did. I labeled my friend’s mother “crazy” and went about getting a tan, and, as it happened, grew in faith.
And I started reading because there wasn’t anything else to do. I was an indiscriminate reader. I read everything and anything. By the time school started, I was deciding between a future as a heart transplant doctor or a kidney researcher because of stories I’d read about Christian Bernard and Michael Woodruff. And, of course, I was reading the Bible.
For reasons I can’t fully explain, I began seeing myself as a learner. I took algebra for the second time and got an A, an A. By my senior year, I was taking advanced composition classes, a precursor to AP classes. And I did really, really well. Mr. Isaacs taught me the logic of clear writing. I love him for that.
When I went off to college because all of my friends went off to college, I was terrified someone would find out I didn’t belong there. I worked hard not to be discovered as undeserving and earned good grades, except for Economics. My English Comp professor wrote at the bottom of a personal memoir I’d written, “You should be a writer?”
I was eighteen, so I changed my major to journalism. I didn’t talk to my professor to ask her how to go about being a writer. I rushed to the recorder’s office and changed my major. I’d already done this plenty of times, and I was good at it.
Being a journalism major wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me. I was forced to teach myself how to type. I also learned grammar and how to write a lead. My writing tightened. But I hated the daily, sometimes hourly, deadlines. I came within 17 quarter units of graduating with a journalism degree but fell in love instead.
I didn’t stop writing.
I wrote gardening articles for the local newspaper, Christmas and PTA newsletters, and stories to teach my children the character of God. When my children got older, I returned to college. The shortest distance between where I stood and an elementary school teacher job was an English Literature degree.
Oh boy, those English professors loved to assign essays. Several of them told me I should publish my papers. Obviously, they didn’t realize how hard I’d worked on getting those papers just right. I had this crazy idea that good writers wrote easily—they got it down the first time; they weren’t scratching out, penciling in, or crying over a recalcitrant sentence. I ignored my professors.
As a teacher, I wrote constantly. Many of my students couldn’t read at grade level but were still expected to learn things in social studies and science and math. One problem, they couldn’t read the material, so I wrote about Colorado history and dinosaurs and factoring (hard but it can be done), besides all the other stuff teachers do.
I reached a point where I had to make a choice–writing and teaching or just writing. I chose to just write with my husband’s gleeful support. I took what I thought would be a year off to write a novel, but it took a whole year to garner the courage to start that first novel.
This is getting to be a ridiculously long story, so I’ll summarize the next years like this: God smiled on me. I discovered that writing is harder for writers than it is for anyone else. For me, this was great news. It meant all my fussing over words and characters and story lines was normal. I created thousands (a minor exaggeration) of drafts until the first chapter of Like a Watered Garden was ready for public scrutiny. I sent all 12 pages, a year’s worth of work, off to Lauraine Snelling to critique.
She loved it.
I was encouraged.
I started calling myself a writer.
I’ve published six novels.
And writing novels is still the toughest work I’ve ever known.
There’s lots of talk in the writing world about whether writing is a calling or a craft. I say yes. Writing is a calling. Who would work this hard without anyone noticing, if they didn’t sense a higher purpose? And yes, it’s a craft that can be learned. I see that in my story. God provided tons of opportunities for me to hone my skill as a writer over decades, and He kept whispering in my ear that I should be a writer.
No, I don’t fit the norm of the writers you may have studied. I’m the writer Papa God made, and that’s good enough for me.