Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflections On My Writing Past

One of my students asked me where I got my ideas for poems I write.  They asked because I told them I don't write a lot of poetry.  They said they didn't understand that because they liked my poetry.  How and when do I create poetry?  When my emotions get the best of me. I didn't realize it until I took a trip down memory lane that I used to write when I was really sad, or frustrated, or very happy.   I grew up on a farm and often walked around with a book (almost all the time) and/or a pencil and notebook.  When I was real happy or feeling melancholy I would go to our swing.  My father had taken a real thick board and drilled two holes in it.  He had threaded a thick rope through the holes and tied the ends around a thick branch.  We would take turns as children pushing each other in that swing.  That swing was where I created or thought.  If my sister was in the swing I would sit on the large boulder that sat next to the tree.  Another favorite place to write or read was in the rafters of our corncrib.  We had one side that my father had put some old furniture in and we had turned it into a play house.  My mom would fix our lunches and we would eat out there, we had an old army cot and of course a table.  My sister was a singer like my father and would often make up songs.  I on the other hand often made up stories to tell to my sisters.  My imagination was wild enough that I often got myself in trouble for scaring them.  Hey, what can I say, a corncrib creaks and is kind of dark and musty smelling and is the perfect place for telling ghost stories.

 I can say that I enjoyed writing until I entered my junior year in high school.  I took a creative writing course expecting I would learn all  the nuances of writing stories.  At that time I had plans to be an elementary teacher and write stories for little kids.  The second part was dashed by that creative writing teacher.  Our first assignment was  to write an essay for her explaining our hopes, dreams and plans for our future.  She wanted us to bare our souls so she could get to know us before we started creating.  She wanted to know where our writing was coming from.  At this point let me interject something.  I have made it a point to take bad experiences I had as a student and use it to guide me in my teaching.  I interjected this here for the following reason.  After reading a piece of writing I had created I sat with her for my critique time.  I had my dreams temporarily dashed when she read my piece and said,  "It's a good thing you plan on being a teacher because you'd never really make it as a writer".  I was deflated.  I continued to write for her class but only to pass it and leave it behind.

I did become a teacher.  I've taught kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I love all grades.  I never stopped writing.  I wrote when I was frustrated and dreamed that maybe one day I would be good enough to write a book and have it published.    I tried to pass the love of reading and writing on to my students.  Then one day a student asked me a question.  He said,  "Mrs. Stiles, you have all of these books on your shelves that you share with us.  You are always talking about what was good and bad in the books.  Since you know this, why don't you write books and put them on your shelves for us to read?"   I will always be thankful to Jessie for that little kick in the pants.  He encouraged me in ways I had never been encouraged before.

I would love for you to think that I picked up an pen and crafted a beautiful story that was sold and placed on my shelves.  But that didn't happen.  I had ideas, one in particular.  I talked about it to my husband for quite some time.  One evening while sitting in our lawn swing, I once again began talking about that story.  He went inside to get us some coffee.  What he came out with forever changed my life. Along with our coffee he had a notebook and pen.  He looked at me and said,  "Stop talking about your story and write it."  That's the day I started down the path to create Steps to Courage.  So far I have been unable to publish it the traditional way.  This is the story of three teens who find their lives drastically changed on 9/11.   Their present situation intertwines with their past.  It gives them the courage to continue on.  It gives them the courage to make changes in their lives.  It changes those around them.  I did a final edit and then handed my manuscript to three of my students.  I asked them to read it twice.  The first time I wanted them to read it to see if there were discrepancies in my story.  The second time I wanted them to read it for the story itself.  Why did I pick three students?  This is the audience I am writing for.    My husband and I discussed the book and what I wanted.  Since this is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I want my book in the hands of students.    My husband and I decided to self-publish the book.  If it becomes a good seller great.  It is what has kick started my writing again.  I may never make it as the next great middle grade or young adult writer, but I will continue to write for me.  I will continue to chase after the dream of having an agent and traditional publisher one day.  But I don't think people look down on self-publishing so much any more.  

So ask yourself,  why do you write?  Where have you come from in your writing quest.  Most importantly, where are you going with it?

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