It had been several years and three children later when the writing bug took hold of me again, but this time it would not let go. As a reminder, per the first installment of My Writing Journey, up to that point I'd only dabbled in writing, even if that dabbling meant writing hundreds of cheesy poems with a lame attempt at playwriting on the side. But after having separated myself from the church, I needed to sort out why I no longer could be a part of what had been so important to me.
Writers are often told to ignore that critic sitting on their shoulder and just keep writing, but when one imagines that the critic is a higher power, (or followers of this higher power ready to pounce), it makes sitting at the typewriter and writing with honesty a bit more difficult. I believe that is one of the reasons why after two frustrating weeks attempting to write a memoir, I switched gears to make it a work of fiction. Besides, it wasn't long before I realized that no one would give a damn about how I struggled with changing my spiritual direction. I'd gone from someone who was certain about the faith she claimed to someone with doubts that could not be ignored or adequately addressed by any believer. Still, while trying to make it a memoir, I was nagged by the following questions: Who cared that I lay curled up on my couch sobbing, believing that the devil had won my soul? Who cared that I witnessed the very same dramatic issues happening in the flock as what was happening outside the church's doors? Who cared that my pastor told me none of the believers dared to ask the pointed questions I was asking since they would probably do what I did and walk away? That's when I decided a work of fiction would give me the flexibility to show the contradictions and conditional "love" that I'd witnessed by members of the Bible-believing faith. But what did I know about writing fiction?
I first decided it would have to be a short story since I thought that would be easier and less time-consuming, which goes to show how little I knew about writing. Therefore, once I decided to approach it in the fictional context, I had to ask myself, what would be the issues that show these contradictions, as well as sincere struggles?
In order to educate myself about how to write fiction, I started to immerse myself in reading it. Of course I read short stories and novels throughout my life, but never with the intention of figuring out how to write them. So what better way to learn than by using The New York Times Best Seller list? Well, after reading some of those selections, one that I actually threw across the room in disgust because the characters were one-dimensional Barbie and Ken dolls cavorting from one senseless scene to the next, in one designer outfit after the next, I knew one thing: even though it was written by a highly successful author and made it to the bestseller list, I did not want to write such ridiculous dribble.
On the other hand, some of those books from the list intimidated me by how wonderfully written they were, and I believed I could never write like that. (Still do.) However, I wasn't ready to give up and needed some sort of plot -- something more than just a person leaving the faith because answers didn't satisfy her questions. So just what would be the driving force? Was my protagonist gay with AIDS, which was getting a lot of media attention at that time? Or did this protagonist simply want to have the freedom to dance like Ren McCormack in Footloose? What was it about this person that would go against the fundamentalist beliefs of one unyielding church?
I thought about this for quite some time, even questioning if I had a story worth writing, until I heard a female voice in my head say, "I never meant to hurt anyone." I stopped what I was doing, which was the mindless household chore of ironing, and wanted to know more about this woman and find out what it was that she meant. I turned off the iron and went directly to my typewriter and began to get to know her, a woman who turned out to be Laura Sumner, a child born in the late 1950's, raised by a mother who believed the devil needed to be kept at a distance by beating "him" out of each of her children to keep them from the gates of hell. Laura was the only sibling who challenged her mother simply because she couldn't walk in lockstep to such an authoritarian lifestyle.
And so I began writing, day and night, between sending my children off to school, to attending their events, making dinner, writing into the late hours of the evening, and a month and a half later, the first draft to Of Little Faith was complete. The year was 1990 and I had no idea that it would take me dozens more drafts and many years later to get it to where it needed to be. But while I was writing, even finally daring to call myself a writer, the publishing industry was starting to struggle and getting past the gatekeeper seemed almost impossible. I soon realized that I had more work cut out for me than just writing.
Look for the third installment in my writing journey next week.