I can hardly remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. I was an early reader, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where books were ever-present, and crossword puzzles were a daily challenge. My mother and uncle would spend hours on the phone working out a puzzle together, and my grandmother’s crossword dictionary was the first dictionary I learned how to use. Words in all of their varied structures were prized, and an essential part of the air I breathed. My uncle wrote a column for the local newspaper on and off for his entire working life, and he dreamed of publishing a novel, but unfortunately, never did.
I compare my upbringing to that of musicians, born in a house full of music. I think it’s rare to find a guitar player whose parents or grandparents didn’t play an instrument of some kind, or a singer that came from a tone deaf family. There are exceptions, of course, but I always ask, “Who else in your family plays an instrument?” when I encounter a musician. Ninety-nine percent of them always answer to the positive, that someone else plays a saxophone or a violin, or whatever… Same goes with artists, and accountants, as far as that goes. There always seems to be a thread to follow. It helps make you feel less crazy, I guess, knowing you’re not alone in your skills.
But natural skill, or talent, only goes so far. I know some really talented writers who for whatever the reason, have just decided that the life isn’t for them—like my uncle. It’s not an easy career choice. Writing’s a persistence game, with no definable tract to follow like a lawyer or doctor has laid out before them. The first novel I sold, The Rattlesnake Season, was the seventh novel I’d written…along with countless short stories. There were long stretches of rejection letters, hours upon hours sitting at the typewriter (seriously, that’s what I started working on), wondering if I would ever get published. But I realized then, and now, that those hours I spent writing were like a musician practicing scales, learning one new riff after the next, or one new chord to add to the repertoire. I went to conferences. Took courses. Joined a writer’s group, and most importantly, I read voraciously. I was putting in my time. And without that dedication and those hours practicing how to tell a story, and learning how to handle rejection, I don’t believe it would have been possible for me to become a professional writer. Being born with a gift, if that’s what you want to call it, is one thing, but transforming it into a viable skill, and way of life, is another thing entirely.
Even now, more than twenty years after I began my serious embrace to writing as way of life, I still feel like I’m learning, like I’m just getting started. Each new novel I write teaches me a new lesson, a new skill, and my enthusiasm for practice is just as unbridled as it was in the beginning, if not more so.
So, I guess I think some people are born to be writers, but they have to want to live the life, they have to want to do the work, and experience the joy of it, before it truly becomes a reality. Climbing Mt. Everest shouldn’t be easy, and neither should writing a novel. Readers deserve a writer’s best, and I hope to give it every time ink hits the paper with my name on it.