Way back when I was a lad I wanted to be a writer. And a director. And an actor. But mostly a writer. I never could understand the kids who had to act out a scene from the movie instead of making up a new storyline.
I wrote screenplays in crayon on scratch paper my dad brought back from the office, (on the flip side were ordering reports and interoffice memos) and I dragged the neighborhood kids out to our "studio lot" next to the garage. I learned firsthand that I’d never make it as a video editor.
But I learned that I loved to write. All through jr. high and high school I churned out short stories and half-written novels. Many exhibited some degree of natural talent; all were full of the melodramatic pathos of a greenhorn teen writer.
I learned a lot about storytelling, creating mood, characters, etc, etc, but I still wasn’t really a writer.
I could write, but it was frivolous, impulsive. My stories were muscled through on raw talent alone. There wasn’t a conscious honing of the craft or conceptualizing of themes and narrative arcs. I thought I was pretty good.
Then I wondered if maybe I could get published. So I started a critique group with a friend from another band. We met in a Las Vegas bar after midnight. So clandestine.
But the thing is: he challenged my writing. Actually challenged it! He didn’t immediately concede I was an unstoppable literary force who could do no wrong… No, he pointed out flaws, identified clichéd characters and plot points, noticed an overabundance of adverbs and descriptive purple prose. In short, he told me “You can do better.”
He was right.
Now our critique group has grown, I am privileged to meet with accomplished, dedicated writers, and we raise the literary bar every week. Now when I write I can hear their expert advice and foresee their possible critiques. “Why is the character doing that? Is that plot point strong enough? How many adverbs were you thinking of putting into that sentence?”
Each of us has a unique style. Each of us has a range of “voices” that we comfortably write in. But none of us are content to stay where we are. I want to grow as a writer, try more daring voices, experiment with style and characters and genres.
Now I feel, though I’ll always have room for improvement, that I’m ready to be a writer. Now I’m ready to get off the bench, put down the test pastiches of copying my favorite authors, not just dabble, but give it my real attention.
In short, I’m ready to write like I mean it.