My first thought was to write a murder mystery set in a chemical plant on the Houston ship channel, with a back story about a teenage-girl college-dropout who becomes a hard-hat-wearing fire-fighting chemical plant worker. "Write what you know" and all of that. (Not the murder part - just the "teenage-girl college-dropout chemical plant worker" bit.)
When Chapter 1 turned into a long, tedious, rambling saga with no end in sight, I realized writing a book wasn't as easy as I thought.
So I squeezed a once-a-week continuing education class in Creative Writing into my already tightly packed life. At the time I was working 12-hour shifts and pregnant with my third baby. My sons were around two and five and my husband...hmmm, I can't remember if Tom was finishing up his degree or if he had just graduated.
Walking into that classroom on the first night was scary enough, but then, when we told a little about ourselves, I realized I was surrounded by real writers, including a teenager who wrote fabulous science fiction and an older woman who had already published a book.
I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. Writing is very personal - your words are a part of you, and tossing them out for everyone to see is scary. Each week we started by reading our work aloud. Without fail, I cried when it was my turn, blubbering through whatever I had written. It didn't matter if it was a description of my sleeping baby boys or just a car driving down the road...I cried!
Gradually, I learned to separate myself from my words. Even when it was something very personal...say, the death of my grandmother...I learned to push it away from me, separate the thing from the words about the thing. I was able to open my words up to criticism without taking the criticism as a personal attack on me. And in that way I was able to learn.
That's how I ended up writing "A View from a Catwalk" - the first essay I ever wrote...the first essay I had published. An essay that was chosen to be in a collection of essays, squeezed between the words of famous writers. An essay that was chosen this week to be syndicated on BlogHer.com, twenty years after I first decided to describe what it was like to work at a chemical plant.
It seems surreal that it was chosen. The tiny critic inside wonders if that first will always be the best, if I'm just wasting my time, spinning my wheels with everything else I write.
But seriously, who cares if it is? Here's the thing...I'm not the "best" writer, not by a long shot. But I enjoy writing...I'm driven to write. I had hoped that by now, by this time in my life, I'd be a full time writer, not just someone who hogties her thoughts and corrals them into groups of words.
Life doesn't like to work out according to plans, though, and with the limited number of stolen minutes available to me for writing each day, I'm doing good to just form them into some kind of coherent order. There's no time to edit and edit and edit as I did on that first piece (except on my book, that is.) I nip, tuck and rearrange these little essays, but then I have to let them go and move on...to another post...to my book...to my life.
Still, I know that my words have made a difference to other people and it feels pretty good. It also feels good knowing I have written something in my lifetime that someone thought was good enough to publish and re-publish and re-publish.
I believe it's time that little critic just gets the hell out of here. I'm not listening anymore.
If you want to see "A View from a Catwalk" in its third life, just click here.