Monday, January 30, 2006

Why I am the way I am

A phone call from someone I hadn't thought about in a while made me consider some things I hadn't thought about in a while. Like. . .why I'm having so much trouble getting going on this script second draft. And why I find it easier to waste time than actually, y'know, DO stuff.

You see, I'm adopted (and that's a subject for another post). Today (which is rapidly waning) is the 25th anniversary of said adoption. I've never been anything but grateful for my adoption and the strength it took for my birth mother (whom I've met) to give me up so I could find a new life.

But that's not what this post is about.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a column in the local newspaper. It was mostly goofy stuff about my life, interspersed with the occasional column where I would tackle a "serious" subject, such as the death of a friend or politics or what-have-you. To be perfectly honest, a lot of it was derivative crap (you could see Dave Barry's thumbprints all over it), but it was a good forum to learn how to write in (because the old people in my town weren't too discerning or demanding), and it spurred a lot of my particular gifts.

One week, however, for whatever reason, I sat down and wrote about my adoption. Frankly. Honestly. Openly. I'm not going to say that it was something that completely changed the world, but even today when I read it, I don't cringe (and I ALWAYS cringe). They say, "Write what you know." Well, I wrote what I knew and then some.

The piece, "Reflections on the Baby She Loved Too Much to Keep," bounced around from place to place. For whatever reason, I submitted it to a variety of magazines and anthologies. One of them accepted the piece. And I was off. A number of other publications excerpted the piece from that anthology (including a publication by Weekly Reader!). I made a couple of thousand dollars off of it. Even today, the phrase "Baby she loved too much to keep" has entered the adoption community lexicon (I hoped it would turn up on Sunday's adoption-themed "Grey's Anatomy," but no such luck). Some might worry I peaked at 17, but not me. As good as the piece was for a 17-year-old, it was still just good for a 17-year-old. It's a little trite and over-obvious, all things considered (I won't point you to it because I don't own the copyright on it anymore, but I'm sure it's out there on the Internets somewhere).

But here's the part that really galls me.

It's a first draft.

No. . .really.

The most significant thing I've written in my life to date is a first draft. The editors at my paper -- indeed, the editors at a national publishing house -- only suggested small changes.

And THAT's what has spoiled me.

Real writing is work. It's toil. It's finding the perfect words. Toughing through the rough patches when nothing will come. Sussing out what's wrong with a piece and fixing it.

So when a reporter at one of the magazines that reprinted the article called me up a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to contribute to a "Where Are They Now" article, it got me to thinking. That piece spoiled me. And even though I'm a better writer now, I'm just beginning to shrug off its effects.

So if you're a teen and you're reading this, if you get something published, great. But don't think it's the end of the line. You're a good writer FOR A TEENAGER. But you're going to be a better writer in your 20s. And, God-willing, you'll be an even BETTER writer in your 70s. Writing is about observation. About deep thoughts. About coming to hard conclusions over time. And you just can't do that at 17.

Heck, I can't do that at 25.

It's a process. And I'm only figuring it out now.

Best of luck.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Great post. . .I remember when that article came out. Heck, I probably even helped lay it out. . .

I think that your comments don't just apply to writing. . .they apply to most anything--athletics, friendship, and even science. I was in much the same boat with my research in high school (wow, was I ever and am I ever a nerd). . .pretty good, but have I ever improved since then! (and my writing style in this paragraph must be making a few people cringe. . .)