Scarred for Life

So I back when I was in grade school, I started my first book. It was actually a writing assignment, but I knew it was going to be a book so I confidently titled it “Chapter One.” I’m not sure now what the exact instructions were. I was just excited that I was going to get to write something.

Back in those days, I was very into animal stories. Not the cheerful happy Disney kind. The kind where everyone dies at the end. I’d just finished reading one where the main character was a wolf cub who hides in a crack at the back of his den to avoid being killed with the rest of his littermates. I thought that crack idea was the cleverest thing ever. (Okay, okay, I was ten, all right.) And the murder of his family quickly paved the way for the wolf cub to become an orphan and have a series of adventures. That was pretty much the plot of all the books I’d been reading. Step one, protagonist animal’s family gets wiped out. Step two, adventures.

So I decided that I would write a story about a cougar cub because I liked cougars better than wolves. A cougar cub who was totally black like a black panther. (I know, I know, cougars don’t come in black, but I wanted him to be black. Ten years old, remember?) And he would have some kind of identifying white mark on his shoulder (because being a totally black cougar was not identifying enough apparently.) His siblings would all be normal beige cougars who would show up fine in the darkness, but because he was all black, he could hide in the back of the den and not be seen.

As long as he covered up that damn identifying white mark on his shoulder.

Anyway, Shadow or Midnight or White Spot or whatever his name was, survives a little cougar Armageddon by hiding in a narrow place at the back of the den. It was a variation on the crack thing only better because he was already pretty invisible to begin with.

We had a substitute teacher the day we turned our assignments in. She collected them all and went off to read them in the back of the room while we studied history or something. I was rather proud of my work. I mean it was about a black cougar. How could she not like a story about a black cougar?

Half an hour later, she showed up at my desk, story in hand. The look on her face was not promising. “You didn’t write this story. You copied it from somewhere.”

I felt a tremendous surge of guilt. “Well, just the crack thing. The wolf in the book hid in a crack.”

“So you did copy this from a book. Do you know what that’s called? That’s called plagiarism. That is illegal. These aren’t your words.”

“They are my words.”

“You said they came from a book.”

“No, the hiding in a crack came from a book. But it’s not exactly the same.” I was tremendously confused by this time. She was getting angrier and angrier.

“You can’t steal other people’s words.”

Everyone was staring at me. I sank down into my chair. “I borrowed the crack idea.”

She was practically breathing fire by now. “I don’t care about the crack idea. Did you write this yourself or not?”

“Of course I wrote it myself.”

She looked at me for a long moment, trying to decide if I was lying or not. “You wrote this all by yourself?”

“Yes.”

She tossed it down on my desk. “Then it’s very good.”

I threw the story away on the way out of class that day. I was so terrified by the whole encounter that I never wanted to show anyone anything I’d written ever again.

I got over it.

Sort of.

But still, years later, today to be exact, when a co-worker reads something I’ve written on a project and asks “Did you write this yourself?”, I totally freeze up. I’m ten again looking up at that lady who is certain that I’ve copied my entire first chapter from another writer’s book and I don’t know what to say.

Of course I wrote it myself. Why do people keep asking me that?

There wasn’t even a crack in it.

Useless Writer Mode

So I’ve been stuck in Useless Writer Mode the last three weeks or so. I got a sudden urge to reread Books One and Two, do a little editing, make them presentable for public consumption, that sort of thing. A simple little plan.

That has rendered me utterly useless for the duration.

Oh, I look functional. I get stuff done. I go to work, I make dinner, I take showers, I pay bills, all the requisites.

I just don’t do them willingly.

Because inside, I’m just jonesing to get back to the stories, back to my characters, back to that dream sequence that may be a little too long, back to that scene where I want to switch the first two paragraphs, back to Page 123 where I need to take out the word “the.”

Yes, it’s that bad.

Of course, when I’m actually working with the characters, it’s heaven. We are literally on the same page and, if we aren’t, a tweak here and there puts us back in sync. All the little flaws jump right out at me. Take a word out here. Add a sentence there. Better, much better.

Damn it. I need to go do something else. Okay, okay. Just until the end of the chapter then. Because I want to see if that last scene works. And then I can go.

Maybe.

And life sort of goes on and I sort of go with it, but in a vague sleepwalker sort of way. Because no matter what else I’m doing, my mind is still working on ways to clean up the end of Chapter 7.

Years ago, after my mom died, I went to see a therapist for a while. And I remember one session where I just sat on the couch and cried. “I don’t want to be a writer. I want to be a normal person.”

And Dr. C would say, “But you are a writer.”

“But people don’t have to be writers, right?”

“What do you think about when you’re driving on the freeway?”

“My characters tell me stories.”

“But don’t you see how wonderful that is? Most people have to settle for working on their grocery lists.”

I never did see the wonderful. And I spent a great deal of time trying not to be a writer (of course, writing all the time I was supposedly not doing it). I was supposed to keep a journal, but that never happened.

Because it’s not my life that I write about.

Shoot. Now I’m late for work.

Maybe Drac can write me a note.

Why I’m Not Participating In NaNoWriMo

Because I was.  Briefly.  Okay, I started yesterday, but you see, I have a broken foot.  Not that I’m not perfectly capable of functioning with a broken foot, but it is distracting to have to drag a massive air cast anchor along wherever you go.  Also, it makes my leg go to sleep if I sit at the computer too long, although maybe that’s just me being over enthusiastic with the air pump.

But I digress.

I realized yesterday that I had missed the beginning of the month by about 13 days.  Which meant that I was at least 12,000 words behind the rest of the class.  But, no worries.  I was 15,000 words into a paranormal romance I had never finished.  So, okay, cheating, but still 35,000 words short of a novel.  Plenty of NoWri to go.

After spending the entire day struggling with this thing (and occasionally letting air out of my cast), I’ve discovered that it’s really hard for me to concentrate on writing a story when I’m also concentrating on reaching a daily word count.  It’s like trying to read a book and do math at the same time.  One part of my brain is diligently creating a scene while another part is as antsy as a small child on a road trip.  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?  The process became less about writing a story and more about running a marathon.  Who cares if I really need this scene or not?  It’s 600 words!  I can’t cut it now!

My usual output is a little more unpredictable.  One day I write seven pages; the next, I go back and take out the word “the.”  Telling myself that I have to come up with 1600 words today or else leaves my brain feeling like it has been shoved into a too-tight air cast.

So for those who succeed in writing a novel this month, I salute you.  Me, I’m going back to writing vampire stories.