Once upon a time there was a girl who wrote stories. They were mostly stories about ponies. One day in school her teacher asked her to read her essay out loud to the class. The girl stood proudly and read clearly. A lot of the other little girls were also pony-mad so the story was well received.
When she had finished reading the teacher said “A good essay Elaine, well written and well read. But why do you always write a pony story?”
“Because I love ponies,” replied the little girl.
“But the subject for this essay was My Best Friend, and you’ve given me a story about an imaginary pony,” said Miss Turner.
“He is my best friend,” replied the little girl, with no hint of defiance.
“From now on, I’d like you to consider other subjects, other things to write about. I don’t want another pony story.”
“Yes Miss Turner,” replied the little girl with a faintly wobbly bottom lip. She didn’t understand why was being shamed in front of the whole class. Then her true character erupted, just like it would for the rest of her life, and she stood up again with a straight back and a strong voice. “But I like writing about ponies, and if you give us a title it’s up to us how we write about it. It might be your title but they’re our stories.”
The little girl was eight years old.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve written stories and eventually I wrote about things other than ponies. When I was eleven, I won a writing competition with a piece called ‘After the Storm’, describing a sudden rainstorm, and how everything smelt in the aftermath. Miss Turner would’ve been proud of me. I wrote little caricature stories for friends, painting in words a picture of their endearing foibles or family tiffs. In my early twenties when I had a falling-out with my friend Jimmy, a story about a fairy and a frog said sorry more eloquently than I could’ve spoken. I began to write a book on my portable Brother typewriter. I’ve no recollection what it was about but written to the soundtrack of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, and overdoses of Neil Young, I expect it was full of angst. I must’ve been serious though, because I bought a Writers Yearbook listing all the publishers, and a Dictionary of Synonyms which I still use today.
Fast forward to 2017. I followed Anna Blake’s blog, and when she put forward the idea of starting a writing group, I signed-up pronto. I love words, especially wordy words, and my writing was very wordy. Why use one word when an artful pronouncement would illustrate the point with literary eloquence worthy of scholars? Weird really, because I don’t talk like that. Thinking my unbridled enthusiasm for the Oxford Dictionary would stand me in good stead, my weekly assignments flourished until we got to Editing. I got the biggest shock of my writing life when Anna decreed shorter is better. How could that be? why would there be so many lovely long words if you didn’t need to use them? Anna suggested taking a paragraph and honing it down to five important words. Five. Fifty-five was better, but no, she was adamant five would do. And take a chainsaw to the rest. Ouch that hurt.
I spent weeks describing, and thinking about things in five words. As I sought the essence of what I needed to say, my writing began to change. I discovered words weren’t just a garnish, they actually mattered, and the fewer you used the more power they held. As we built a safe place to share penmanship, the like-minded women in the writing group gelled into friends and writing styles gained confidence. Comments were encouraging but honest, and when Katie repeatedly asked me to stop rushing and find a flow, I began be aware of my breath as I wrote, and my pace became a rhythmic trot and not a hollow canter speeding towards to the last paragraph. I wrote and wrote, even on days when I didn’t want to write, until I found I couldn’t not write. I started this blog in order to create discipline, and when writing for you became so enjoyable, I began to write Bruce’s story, and my story, and Mark’s story, and intertwine the three.
Anna Blake and Crissi McDonald are two women whom I greatly respect. Together they formed Lilith House Press to mentor women authors, and when they invited submissions for an anthology of women’s writing I sent two essays. I’ve had them both accepted for publication. I’m going to be an author!
The book cover of What She Wrote is designed by Jane Dixon Smith, ‘my’ editor, MaxieJane Frasier of BirchBark Editing guided me through the on-line editing process, and taught me about presentation for a future book submission, and I’ve also learnt about book formatting . . .information I hope I can put to good use in the future.
The release date for What She Wrote is November 9th! It will be available from Lilith House Press and through Amazon in print and as an ebook, and signed copies will be available through my blog. Signed copies. An author. Get me!