WHY I STOPPED WRITING

Well first of all, I didn’t. I write LOTS and lots. Just look at my vast collection of notebooks. What I don’t do is publish what I write. And there is a reason and a history. Of course. And I decided to explain because I was asked yet again, just this morning, by a friend who happens to be a wonderful writer, Julie Seedorf. You should check her out if you are interested in writers who publish.

When I was very young, preschool age, I started drawing. Now I didn’t think there was anything unusual about either the fact that I drew or the drawings themselves. But when I was 4 going on 5, I started kindergarten. And there I discovered that I didn’t draw like other children. They drew stick figures. Now I did spend some time with major toddler angst because I thought I saw things differently than other people. When I finally shared this with my mother, she had a good laugh. But she did attempt to give me a toddler version of dimensions and explained I had something called natural talent, which came from my father as she too drew stick figures. To this day I can still recreate my mother’s one drawing. It was supposed to be my father, a bus driver, going to work. Basically it was a stick figure with a box on his head (his cap) and a box in his hand (his lunch box).

For a while, I was rather proud of this new found talent and the praise that went with it. But it became an anchor weighing me down. The older I got, more was expected, and because I had nuns, I was put to work. I had to make posters and signs. I went from drawing animals and people to learning fancy lettering. I made all the felt banners, popular at the time, that hung in the church for every mass. I quickly learned the more you are given, the more that is expected of you. I learned that grown ups will take any pleasurable talent, any fun, and turn it into work. I really stopped enjoying drawing. People were always telling me that when I grew up I would become a commercial artist. I would cringe and silently vow that the last thing I would become when I grew up was a commercial artist.

I did enjoy a brief flurry as a painter back in Ireland. Of course it came about by accident. The town I lived outside of didn’t have a crest. Seems every city or town in Ireland has a crest but we didn’t. So they had a contest to design a crest. I don’t know why, I was probably bored that day, but I drew up a crest after reading a bit about the history of crests at the library. I won the contest. Then they asked me to paint the damn thing to hang in the town. Then they said, “of course you’ll be entering some of your paintings in our annual art show.”

What paintings? I knew there was an artist who had a studio outside town so I went to meet him and ask him where one would get art supplies there in the back of beyond. He insisted I go home and get some of my stuff to show him. I did have a portfolio compiled in high school. He studied everything. Lectured me for not pursuing this. I explained my aversion to making pleasure into work. Thus started a wonderful friendship and five years of competing against each other in art shows around Ireland before his untimely early death.

I did well at the painting. Competed and won all around the country. Appeared in newspapers, on tv and radio. Had fun going to openings with my two best friends (where the wine flowed like water). But then I came to America. I discovered that while angst was fuel for many artists, I only painted while happy. I haven’t painted since I left Ireland.

Now back to the writing. It was a similar path. Those people telling me I would grow up to be a commercial artist frequently said it was great that I wrote so well because I could also do my own copy. I had no clue what copy was back then but I knew if it went with being a commercial artist, I wanted nothing to do with it. But some years ago I decided to write a book. I was working at a very high stress job and started writing as a way to wind down. When I finished, I sent it off to three publishers. I didn’t know that is not how it’s done but I heard back from all three. That was a bit of a surprise. After a bit of back and forth, I picked one. That’s when things started to go south.

I met with several people. They were telling me all the things I had to do. Start a blog. Write about writing. Go to book stores and libraries. Talk to people. I’m sitting there thinking, “And what the hell are you going to be doing?” But then came the thing that killed it all. One of the people from the publisher said, “And you know, amputees are so “in” this year.” Wrong thing to say to me. Contract and check was torn up. Tearing up the check was hard. The profanity that poured out of me was easy. I knew this publisher was not for me but I still didn’t know if writing was for me.

I had written a mystery. A rather hard boiled sort of mystery. The protagonist was a female who happened to be an amputee. As it happens, there were two mysteries that had just come out at the same time I was in discussion with the publisher where the protagonist was an amputee. Which had nothing to do with me. Timing, obviously, I had no idea they would be coming out. But my protagonist was an amputee for my own reasons. When I thought about writing a book, I knew that if my late daughter was still with me, she would have demanded to be the star of the book. So in her honour, I modelled the protagonist after my daughter. An amputee. Which is why I blew my stack about the comment about amputees being “in”.

I realized that this writing thing might be like the art thing. Fun to do until I had to do it. So I decided to test the water first and see how I really felt about it. Tore the book apart. Divided it into five sections. Changed the language. Like say the original book was written at a college level, I turned the writing down to about a 9th grade level. What I did was turn one large hard boiled mystery into a series of 5 cozy mysteries. Came up with great titles and amazing covers. Then I decided to self publish.

Even then I had two offers for the cozy series, I was running in writer circles by then. But I was determined to test this writing gig on for size before getting into contractual obligations. I did all the things the first publisher said I was going to have to do. I blogged. I guested on other blogs. I sold books. I signed books. I gave books away. I did interviews. I hated it. I really, really hated it all. It took all the pleasure out of the writing. I never put out books 2 through 5 and I unpublished book 1.

So. That is the long answer to the question of why I’m not writing. Or painting. I mean when you come right down to it, it is why I never did pornos. Some things I just like to do for pleasure 😉 On the other hand, I would open a pottery in a heartbeat. Yeah, I sculpt too, prefer it to painting and drawing actually, but for some reason it has never bothered me to turn that into making then mass producing decorative and/or utilitarian pieces. I’ve worked producing ceramic pieces twice in my life. So if anyone wants to put up the money for me to open a pottery, I’m on board for that!

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