Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You Tell Me: Did you know when you wanted to be a writer?

by Karen Harrington
author, Janeology


There are two questions writers hear ALL the time:

1/ Wouldn't it be great if we wrote a book together?
2/ Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I've spent a little time thinking about these questions and here's what I've come up with.


Now, don't think I'm rude. I think it's the nature of most writers to be solitary about their work. Though I didn't always know I wanted to write - I have always known I liked to be solitary so I could look at things, imagine things, collect interesting details, make up dialogue of what people would say - or should say. And it seems to me that this sense of being alone to create happened around the age of 12.

Picture a girl standing on a dead, four foot tall tree stump in her front yard, looking out over the rooftops in her own blue-collar neighborhood. That’s me, around age twelve. I climbed this stump at night and looked at the houses and what I thought was a busy road just beyond our neighborhood. I stood up there until the stump finally gave out one night as I leapt off. But before that, it was my pedestal for a full summer. Spying on the neighborhood and the roads, I had all kinds of ideas about where everyone was driving. For example, maybe they were driving all the way to faraway Dallas!

I saw families through their windows and conjured up what was being said and eaten inside, which was decidedly more interesting and flavorful than what took place in my house, I tell you. No Hamburger Helper over there. I heard arguments and screeching car tires coming from the nearby apartments and instead of being afraid, I romanticized a lovers’ quarrel. Of course it was romantic, I reasoned, because the very next sound coming from the apartments was someone playing a piano.

My siblings thought I was a big dork for standing out there like a flagpole. They threatened to pelt me with basketballs. This threat was carried out on more than one occasion. And I can’t imagine what my single-dad must have thought. Did he look out the window and shake his head and tell himself that it could have been worse? Did he rationalize that it was better than worrying about drugs or that boy down the street who I dated for ten years against my Dad’s advice. (Sorry Dad. He had a blue Camaro that matched his eyes.)

Wouldn’t I love to go back in time and talk to my younger self? I think I know all the reasons I wanted to stand there. I was beginning to understand there was more than one way to look at the world – one that I could make up, that I could make better with the right adjectives and dialogue. Maybe I was beginning to understand that if you have an unexplainable yearning to see something different, you could start by viewing the world from a different perspective. And if all you have is four feet of dead tree to prop you up and everyone thinks you’re a big dork, well, do it anyway.

All these years later, I’ve found that sitting in my front yard and letting my imagination go is good for the soul. (Just don’t expect the blue-eyed boy to actually SAY the dialogue you’ve made up for him. You’ll be disappointed when he screws it up and just burps.)

What about you? Do you recall when you first started getting an idea about what you were going to be or create?


Karen Harrington is the author of the novel Janeology - The story of one man's quest to understand his wife Jane's inexplicable descent into mental illness. Visit her at http://www.karenharringtonbooks.com/ or at her blog http://www.scobberlotch.blogspot.com/

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