Michelle R. Newsom

"Girl Reading"
Jean-Honore Fragonard

I think there comes a time in every life when one asks oneself: what am I doing and why? It happened to me about a month ago.

A faceless novice wrote to me asking for advice. I don't know what drew me to open the message marked: " Travis C. Subject: Advice??" Neither name nor subject was familiar. I am a member of an Internet Writing Workshop; I receive a great deal of mail that is "list addressed" and asking for general things. I assumed the topic was general. Upon reading it I realized it was personal. This person was asking me for advice. I pinched myself once, just to be sure. Asking, "What is this guy thinking?" He was inquiring about advice for a would-be writer with "a notebook full of pregnant ideas." My initial response was: why ask me? That is when the light came on. He had read something I had posted, either to the list or a BBS forum that I frequent. He thought I was a writer.

I didn't know what to do. Write him and tell him get a clue. I am just figuring all this out myself. Could I do that? The answer was no. Not for me; I needed something to help him the way dozens of others were helping me. I had to send a ray of hope, help him find his inspiration. The question then was: "What?"

I am no wonder child with some great insight. I am an unpublished, often struggling, writer with a vision. Where do I begin?

I typed the greeting and this is what followed:

I started putting my thoughts down on paper about five or six years ago. I don't recall ever wanting to be a writer until I discovered poetry. Then I was "born free," off writing about everything: kids, dog, etc. That's when it struck me. I was sitting, thinking about my life. It seems since I was eight, I have had various people -- friends, teachers, relatives, tell me that my imagination and ability to use words powerfully were gifts. The power I possess in writing and speaking made people stop and think.

 Writing was not an obvious calling for me. I rarely paid attention to literature or grammar in school and I barely finished high school. My senior year was roughest, with an unexpected pregnancy and dropping the first semester. I was really fortunate to graduate.

 But I did graduate: re-enrolling the second semester, registering for seven classes to earn the three and a half credits I needed for graduation. I wrote my research paper and turned it in shortly after my child was born. I still managed to receive an A on it. I knew where I stood in all my courses except Literature. I went to see my assigned teacher. She was considered toughest in the English Department. Honor students failed her class.

 At this point you need to understand that I was raising a baby and doing a full schedule of school work with little or no tutorial supervision. One teacher worked with me three hours a week.

 My assigned teacher reviewed my scores. Each assignment was an essay on the literary piece and a comprehensive test. Considering I had barely read a chapter of any assignment, I was certain she saw right through my weak familiarity with the

material. She said (I still remember it ten years later), "I don't know why you are worried about this class, you have no scores under an 89 and you write beautifully." At that moment I was worried about a cap and gown, not a writing career. I walked out dismissing her words.

 In 1991, my marriage was in trouble. I had three children under four years old. I lived for talk shows and soap operas and the evening news. I had an adult conversation every three or four days with a neighbor who had a life. I was fed up with our government, my life, and my husband. I started writing letters to everyone. If it needed to be said, I wrote it down.

After my divorce, I kept a journal as therapy to replace the missing person with a true "confidante." It never betrayed or hurt me, and always listened. I found freedom there.

In 1993, I wrote my first novel. It was 486 pages of handwritten soul. Rough and full of bad grammar, but the story was strong. I knew I had it. I am not a very patient person. The novel became only a dream. It was poetry that seemed to speak to me and I through it. Over time I developed a style and a way of working my words so they pour from me.

I am now working on a short stories. My hope is that this experience will help me develop the tools I need to become an effective Storyweaver. (We ,as authors, don't tell stories. We create them. Even journalists tell a side of a story that they create. It has an edge on it only that one writer can capture.)

 My work is MY-sided. It is my take on life. Yet, I am branching out and finding ways to tell stories that I can only imagine because I have no experience there. I am growing as a writer everyday.

I had to throw myself to the wolves and watch them tear my work apart. They give me areas where I need to work. Ways to grow and improve. I am determined. I will be published someday. This is how I intend to make my living. I may not return to school though I need some work on the technical side. I have been advised that a formal education is not actually necessary. Creative writing courses are an option.

I am working all the time. I don't go to bed until 4:30 in the morning and I get up with the kids at 8. I am not quitting. I have a dream that I need more than it needs me. I have to do this. . .it is here and it is real and it is waiting just outside my door.

I had to find my own power, my own vision to lead me where I want to be. The best advice I can give you is to learn from everyone you correspond with. I do. If you get down, can't think -- don't quit: write, read a book, watch a movie, write. I let people read my work because I need feedback. Don't be afraid of critical statements about your abilities. It's what you need. You don't need to work on your strengths. If it is all bad at first, don't quit -- change. . .work. . .write.

You have to find the willingness to succeed within yourself, and grab it. Everything else is textbook. If you lack the determination -- it will always be a dream. It takes spirit and courage. It doesn't happen without risk or commitment, but the rewards will be greater than anything you might lose.

If you need help, ask anyone else who has a different perspective. It helps you be objective. Before giving your stuff to someone else, put it down a while, then read it and change what you think needs changing; find a support network and go with it.

In all, I didn't know what to say at first, but I didn't want to tell him not to try. Perhaps it is too wordy or badly punctuated or contains a spelling error or two, but I did tell him what he needed. Did I give him one writer's perspective? Yes I did. I am not Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck -- I am not even close to anyone remotely true to the art. . .at least not yet. I am optimistic. I have a lot to learn and as long as I realize that I will.

As beginning writers, we need to realize that everyone isn't dealing on a personal level. It isn't like giving it to your friends or family who try to cushion the blow. This is real life. Not the fantasy fairy tale where the writer always gets published by the wave of a magic wand.

 This is simply my story. It took me very nearly seven years to find my writing voice. Once I found it, I had to make a decision -- I can live my dream and fight to become all that I desire to be, or I can settle. I can be content with a regular job and a journal, no risk. But will I ever know the joy of having my dream? Everyone must face this at some point. . .what you do with it is where the inspiration lies. I owe Travis C. a debt of gratitude for helping pull it out of me.


© Michelle R. Newsom All Rights Reserved 1997


Michelle R. Newsom



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