Wednesday, October 28, 2009

how writing saved my life

the summer i met my first husband, i was working on my first novel, and according to him, most of the people who knew me then thought i was crazy. (my children, if they read this, will most likely wonder how anything has changed.)

however, shortly after we married, i stopped writing.

i'm not sure how, i'm not sure why. i know i was very young, and a writer needs a certain amount of experience from which to draw in order to have something to write about. when i was first married, all my stories seemed flat and uninteresting. and so, i stopped.

years passed. i birthed babies, kept house, chased bad guys, taught aerobics, ran a daycare, dabbled in interior decorating, and mediated peace between neighbors, landlords, tenants and other tormented souls. i volunteered at the library for successive children, but where other parents read stories to their classes, i told stories to mine... stories no one had ever heard before, because i made them up.

along the way, i supported my ex body and soul through law school and his daily demons. nothing i tried i ever really succeeded at, mostly, because - as i realize in retrospect - mister ex sabotaged my success at any critical turn.

and then one day, i got an Idea. it was the kind of Idea i hadn't had in a very long time... in more than eleven years to be exact. it was the kind of Idea that spawned more. As more and more interesting ideas came to me, i saw that they came complete with names and needs, dreams and desires. it was the first time in a long time i felt the sensation of Something trying to eat its way out of my head.

so i bought a notebook. i carried it everywhere. when i stopped at red lights, i wrote in it, quick jottings that captured just a phrase, a place, a thought. then one labor day weekend, on the beach in ocean city, i turned to a fresh page in my notebook, and i wrote the first sentence of my first manuscript.

are you crazy, asked my ex.

i think i am, i answered.

i knew there was no turning back. when mister ex tried to sabotage my writing, he found a very different opponent from the one who had cowed so readily before. when he demanded i stop, i laughed. when he tried to guilt me into it (you wouldn't be the first woman to give up her career for her family, he said), i told him writing isn't what i do, writing is what i am. when he accused me of having lesbian affairs with the people in my writing groups (i didn't know any male writers), i reminded him i hoped i'd be able to tell oprah i'd succeeded because of him and not in spite of him.

when he threatened to divorce me (six times in four weeks) i filed first.

the year my first novel came out was the most terrifying year of my life. i had hardly any money, and an angry ex who was determined to punish me by using his advantage as a lawyer. i had no idea where i was going to live, or how i was going to live when i got there.

but i had my writing, my children, my family, my friends...and very shortly afterward (as a result of that first novel) Beloved.

and that, as it's turned out, was enough.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.


Allison said...

Wow! So glad you persisted with writing.

Divaeva said...

what an awesome tale :)

Walk in the Woods said...

I am so glad to know you.

Elizabeth Collins said...

Very interesting posting. Do you have any ideas about why some of us encounter so many obstacles, and have to spend so much time struggling before we find success? I'd love to know what you think about that!

Hi! I'm Grace said...

Very interesting. I have few friends who encourage me to write a book, too. I don't believe in myself that I can do that, though I want to do that.
Your story inspired me, Annie. :)

Patrice said...

You did daycare, chased "bad guys," and taught aerobics? Wow!

And how did writing the first book lead you to Beloved?

Next installment of your life, please!

(I'm just catching up.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, sure can relate to how you feel about ex-husbands who are lawyers. I didn't put mine through law school, but I did type all of his notes for him every day after class because he couldn't read his own chicken scratches and took care of the kids and kept the household humming since he worked during the day and went to law school three nights a week--for four years.

You're right--law school does something to people, and it isn't pleasant. When we got divorced (he "outgrew" me) he even served me with a summons to force me to put our 7 year old daughter on a plane by herself so he could see her at his discretion. This after unilaterally deciding I didn't need child support for her since I had re-married. Boy, been there--done that! So glad you didn't give in to your ex's demands. Good for you!