Buy “Runway”



My Writing Journey

Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad reading books—my dad political fiction and biographies and my mom historical fiction and romance novels. I think my mom spent every minute she wasn’t cooking a meal or cleaning the house lying in bed with a book. At the age of six I remember reading everyone my favorite book called “Kittens” (upon searching for this book on Amazon, I came across “ presents the BDSM Issue” with chapters titled “Domme Does Not Equal Bitch” and “Hot Wax Play Tips”—very different from the Kittens book I read as a kid.)

When I was seven, I started a book of poems, all handwritten on that gray paper you get in grade school to practice your penmanship and bound by a black piece of construction paper. I wish I could find that book now, but I do remember the first poem I ever wrote, titled after my sister’s boyfriend at the time:

Bruce the Moose
Bruce the Moose
Had a rubber goose
Bruce the Moose
Just Loved Dr. Seuss
One day Bruce’s Moose
Got Loose

You’re probably asking yourself, “Wait. I thought Bruce was the Moose.” Well, it just so happens that Bruce the Moose had a pet moose.

By second grade I was winning contests. Every month we had a reading contest. We had to record how many minutes we read non-school books at home, get our parents to sign the paper, and turn it in to our teacher. I won the contest every month. I entered a creative writing contest with a story called “Christy Goes to the Olympics.” I have no memory of what that story was about, only that I wished my name were Christy and that I wanted to take gymnastics with my friends, but my mom wouldn’t let me because she thought I’d break my neck. So through my story I got to live my dreams. It came in second place after my friend J’s “How The Leopard Got Its Spots.” J is now a Hollywood producer.

Later, in middle school, I remember reading “The Most Dangerous Game” and LOVING that story. It was so gripping, so full of suspense. I wanted to write stories like that someday, to entertain. In high school I grew a bit disenchanted with reading because we had to read so many “boring” books like Grapes of Wrath and a ton of Shakespeare. I began reading the Cliffs Notes before exams. Then, I graduated and moved on my own from the Midwest to California and began devouring books again. I read everything I could get my hands on—from Sartre and Hesse to Vonnegut and Hemingway. There were so many good books out there! I couldn’t read fast enough, and spent the time I wasn’t reading browsing the shelves of bookstores.

By that time, I was living abroad—in Paris, Milan, Munich, and Tokyo—so I was constantly on the hunt for the local English-language bookstore. I hated to part with my books, so I shipped boxes home via boat once I accumulated more than I could carry. I was very lonely much of the time, and books kept me company. In them I found friends, and I felt less alone. Many days, you could find me either in the fiction aisle browsing for authors I hadn’t read or in the self-help aisle looking for guides on how to be happy. I read books like The Tao of Pooh, Seat of the Soul, and The Greatest Salesman as well as works by Anais Nin, Graham Greene, and James Baldwin. Instead of writing short stories and poems like I did when I was a kid, I wrote in journals. I wrote everything from grocery lists and appointments to rants about how much I loved or hated my life, depending on the hour of the day. Here’s a journal entry from a time when I was living in Germany and had more free time that I liked:

” I used to do everything quickly Now I take my time. I go to bed early & Get up very early. I take a long shower—washing my hair & shaving my legs each morning. Then I have a slow breakfast with toast, orange juice, sometimes meat sometimes muesli & an apple. Afterward I drink a cup of tea. Then I wash the dishes. All of this takes time. And that is my goal. To lose time.”

Eventually I got interested in creative writing again. I read Syd Field’s Screenwriter’s Workbook and started to jot down notes for a screenplay. I wrote a farce about models called “The Hanger” in which supermodels are magically teleported to Supermodel Planet after they retire, where they spend their remaining days rescuing Earthlings from fashion disasters like VPLs (visible panty lines) and stocking with runs. If I’d entered it in a contest, it probably would have won a prize for the worse screenplay ever written. I wrote a short story, too, about a Native American in Paris. I can’t remember the details, but I have a copy that I translated into French. It could probably win an award for the worst short story ever written. I had no idea how to write. I had never taken a class, and my English wasn’t good because not only had I not gone to college, but I had spent the years after graduating from high school living in non-English-speaking countries studying French, German, and Japanese. I was thinking in French, dreaming in French, and having trouble remembering even some basic English words.

But I continued to read, and I continued to write in my journals, and that kept my passion for writing alive. Once I was 26 and applying to UCLA as a junior after completing my general ed requirements at three different colleges (American University in Paris, University of Michigan and Santa Monica College), I applied to film school and didn’t get in. Someone suggested that an English major could just as likely write and direct movies, so I re-applied as an English major and was accepted. I read Beowolf and Canterbury Tales, and The Awakening and Beloved at least three times each. I was happy to discover new books (Maxine Hong Kingston, Octavia Butler), but sad not to read Faulkner or Joyce. I mastered the English class essay and got an A on every one. I wanted to be a creative writing major, but because I had transferred in and the creative writing classes had to be taken consecutively, it would have taken me an extra year to graduate. So I settled for being an English major, switching from English Lit to American Lit in my last semester to avoid having to learn Middle English. I wrote my honor’s thesis on the graphic novels “Maus” and “Paul Auster’s City of Glass.”

By the time I graduated in 1999, I had grown disenchanted with Hollywood. I didn’t have a film degree, and I had PA’d (worked as a production assistant) on a Nike commercial and hated it, and that was the path tho working in Hollywood, PA’ing. I decided I wanted to go to med school and started studying math and science to take a test to enter a one-year pre-med program at Scripps College, east of LA. Then one of my professors said to me, “What are you doing? You’re a writer” and a friend said to me, “Meeg, you’ve always wanted to write. Med school will always be there. Why don’t you give writing a chance? Give it five years, and if it doesn’t work out, then go to med school.” I decided she was right. I should give writing a chance. I decided I wanted to write for magazines, and I applied to a couple in LA. Then I met a journalist who worked for the Christian Science Monitor, and he told me if I really wanted to learn the craft of writing, I should get a job at a newspaper, where I’d be writing every day. I applied to several newspapers and got hired by the Brentwood Media Group, which published six weekly community newspapers, ie, ad rags. I worked there for two years, often staying at work past midnight to write, edit, and lay out the articles for the paper because we were so severely understaffed. I loved every minute.

But the goal of any community newspaper reporter is to work at a big daily paper like the LA Times and to get there, you need to start at a smaller daily newspaper, so I applied to papers in LA and San Francisco and got hired by the Oakland Tribune Company to work in their Fremont office writing for The Daily Argus. I did that for two years, and then I got really burned out. There was no money in journalism, no jobs to be had and no raises to earn. I was racking up credit card debt in order to live in the expensive Bay Area. If I was going to be poor, I may as well teach until 3 and write after work, I thought, rather than getting home at 8 p.m. every night. So I took the CBEST and began substitute teaching for the Oakland School District, probably the worst job I’ve ever had. My glasses were stolen one day. I came home with gum in my hair another. I was constantly calling the security guard to remove unruly students. When I told one student to stop throwing spitballs and sit down, she called me a racist (I was a white teacher in mostly all-black schools). Another called me a “White snow-ho,” which I told her was redundant. And then I applied to grad school.

The thought of spending two years reading and writing was so exciting to me. I had joined a writers group and begun writing a memoir about my years living abroad, and I hoped to use school to finish it. Two years later, I graduated with 100 pages completed and joined the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, where I rented an office and completed the first draft of my manuscript. I spent the next four years getting married, having two kids, and writing three more drafts of my manuscript, which brings me to the present. I’m now on what I hope will be the last draft of my memoir and am extremely eager to move on to other writing projects. I want to write nonfiction books, and I want to write novels. I want to continue to write book reviews, and I want to keep up my blog.

I had intended this post to be titled “Why Do You Write?” but I think my own answer to that question is apparent in my writing journey:

1. To entertain
2. To make readers feel they aren’t alone
3. To teach
4. To widen readers’ horizons, either through the story or the language itself
5. Because it’s what I love to do

What about you? How is your writing journey similar to/different from mine?

13 comments to My Writing Journey

  • I read The Cruel Sea when I was a freshman in high school and decided I wanted to be a writer. I've done a lot since — newspaper and magazine writer and editor, grad student, operative of the Very Important Organization — and I'm still trying to be a writer. There are times, I confess, when I wish I'd never picked up The Cruel Sea — like when the 100th form rejection rolled in. But what are you going to do? Writing gets into your head. There's no cure except to give up. (Or death, I suppose.) So you just keep plugging along at it. It would be nice to be financially independent so you wouldn't have those worries to distract you/take up your time/energy. But…well, what to do? I already said that.

  • Rats I can't read, my spellings bad

    My word usage is really sad

    Will it be a comma or period my lad

    Therefore, as a writer a vacuum I pull

    Only a bad writer would be spreading this bull

    The only book I wrote was after I was dead

    Moreover, most of my poems are still stuck in my head

    As a young boy No books did I do

    And I never saw the movie of Who? Heard a Who?

    Someday a fine writer I might turn out to be

    If only I could get someone to write it for me

    By the way, my muse has more fun than anyone knows

    As I set here typing this, with my big toes

  • Travener – I know what you mean. I'm not sure whether I should thank or curse my friend who discouraged me from going to med school.

    Ellis – more fabulous comment poetry! I love it!

  • Wow… that really is a journey, and compared to you, I've done nothing. I've always loved to write but just recently have I actually started writing again. I do it mostly because I love it. And if it ever turns out to be something else, well then that will be great. 🙂

  • Kimberly, I love to hear about everyone's writing journeys. There are so many different paths to the top of the mountain–some shorter than others!

  • Like you, my writing journey began with my love of books. I remember in first grade being able to spend time in our special reading fort because of the books I'd read. In elementary school, I received my first rejection letter when I tried to submit to a local magazine. I wish I'd saved that rejection letter! Good luck as you continue your journey!

  • Amy Jo – First rejection letter in first grade – that's harsh! And I wish I could find my first book of poems, too. I used to copy them over every now and then to make them look nice. No idea what happened to them. Maybe they're buried in my parents' basement and will turn up some day.

  • "So through my story I got to live my dreams."

    Yup, that's why I started telling stories too. 🙂

    My full answer to this question would be way too long for a comment, so I'll give you the short version:

    – wrote a creative nonfiction essay at age 10 that got an A+, realized I was good at writing and enjoyed it

    – spent the next 10 years writing short stories and essays and occasionally some bad poems, winning contests, and studying writing/literature in school (middle, high, and college)

    – in college, started my first novel, wrote half as my thesis

    – graduated, moved to Cincinnati to live with my boyfriend, and "finished" my first novel

    – now I'm working on new novels, struggling with time management and productivity/discipline, and hoping to acquire an agent

    I wanted to be the Taylor Swift of books (before I even knew who Taylor Swift was) but since that ship has sailed, I'll settle for a long, steady, successful career like Nora Roberts or Stephen King. (A blockbuster career like JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer would be just fine too. ;P)

  • Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Kristan! Does "the Taylor Swift of books" mean huge success early in life? I don't know much about her. I'm WAYYY beyond that!

  • I love the story of Bruce the Moose – I would love to read some of your other stories from before you went to college.

    I don't really write – but I think good writing – on anything – can help us empathize better – and even take a fresh look at ourselves and the world.

  • I did enjoy writing in school, and often did well – but i never thought of being a writer, because i was far more interested in drawing, altho I have loved reading fiction/non-fiction/essays – anything that is well written. I started writing a bit in the past couple of years – because i needed stories to illustrate, and without a real degree or career in art or illustration, I figured, may be if i could write my own stories and illustrate them, I might have something that will get me work from other children's stories writers in the future.

  • Aditi – I don't think I have any other pre-college writing, unfortunately. Well, that's not true. I have that horrendous screenplay about Supermodel Planet and the one about the Native American, but it's all in French (I lost the original English version.) Your writing/illustrating strategy sounds like a good plan!

  • It is very good to start writing an article on the early age. This will help you to write your college assignment and dissertation writing materials.