When I was a child, my grandfather wanted to read anything I wrote. When I say anything, I mean anything. We’re talking fifth grade book reports, science reports, stories scribbled on notebook paper. Anything. My grandparents lived three hours away, so my writings were often shipped in the mail, and they always received a lovely, long letter in reply. He was a writer himself and was never short on words.
He would tell me about a phrase in my writing that delighted him or ask me questions about whatever topic. It was amazing to me, especially at that strange age of eleven years old, that he was really interested. He wasn’t just asking me about these things because he was my grandfather, he really wanted to know, he really enjoyed reading something that I had created. That was one of the first things that I can remember when I think about when I wanted to write — that feeling of creating something that someone else enjoyed, that thrill of knowing that I had made something, molded words into something that hadn’t been there before. It became a part of who I was.
I remember once, at a sleepover in high school, one of our friends suggested that we each tell each other one thing that annoyed us about the others. Now, anyone could read these tea leaves — this was a disaster in the making. It is surely not a surprise to anyone, but I can still remember vividly when my best friend said, “It’s annoying how obsessed Cory becomes with things.” Everyone giggled and moved on to the next person, but I remember sitting on that couch and looking out the window, smiling with the rest of them, but seething. Obsessed?!
I am still friends with each and every one of those girls who I sat on the couch with, so you can say that all is forgiven, but that comment stuck with me in the intervening decades. The thing that they didn’t understand was that I wasn’t obsessed, at least not in the way they thought, with things — it was that things stuck with me because they were telling me a story. And that story stayed in my head, swirled and shaped itself until it formed something else. Once I could see what shape it was, that was when I wrote it down. That was when it became the story I wanted to tell. It could start with anything — a movie, a book, a music video, someone new I met — anything could strike that match in my head and start me off in the direction of a story. And it stayed in my mind until I set it free on paper. And then, like magic, it was gone. I wasn’t obsessed — I just had stories to tell. It took me a long time to realize that wasn’t a bad thing, or a weird thing. It was just a part of who I was.
For a long time, my stories were only for me. They tumbled around in my mind until I got them out, and then I usually forgot about them. Every so often I would stumble upon a stack of papers under my bed, or a full notebook, and remember what I had created. Sometimes I impressed myself, but usually I would think, why would I ever think this was good? And that really is the dichotomy of a writer, isn’t it? We make things, write about people and places and ideas because we love it, because we have to on some level that other people don’t always understand, and yet we are brutally hard on ourselves about the things we create.
That was why, for the longest time, thinking about being published was something I would daydream about, or maybe have the thought drift through my mind as I was falling asleep. It wasn’t a real possibility. No one, save for my grandfather, wanted to read what I wrote. That was ridiculous.
I hold an English Writing minor from college because I was too scared to make it my major. When we used to have to share our stories in class, I would work myself up into such a ball of nerves that I was nearly sick. I didn’t want to; I couldn’t hear what my classmates thought about my writing. I would surely sink into the floor, or perhaps just spontaneously combust, from embarrassment. It wasn’t even a possibility to me that someone would say something good. See? Brutal on ourselves.
Then, a strange thing happened as I got older. I found that, little by little, I stopped caring. People not liking what I wrote became less and less important, and the act of writing was what I wanted, and it became the main focus. The joy I felt when I wrote the story that had been in my head for weeks was what I focused on. There isn’t enough life to care about what other people think. It took me a while to figure that out, but when I finally did, my writing became so much better.
After I had my second child, I discovered a writing group at my library. It was full of encouraging, sweet people who also loved to write. Although I only went to a few meetings, they opened a door so wide for me that it changed everything. They showed me that other people thought like I did, that other people loved to make up stories. They also introduced me to short story contests that are prevalent online. I had always scribbled my stories in notebooks, or if I was really inspired, a word document. But now I discovered there were places to actually see my stories shiny and published. I was hooked.
In what I’m sure you can see now is a very typical reaction for me, I assumed there was no one who would want to read my stories. So, it was with the utmost surprise when that first acceptance email came through. I can do this. I didn’t look back after that. I kept writing, kept thinking, and finally, really let myself enjoy it. Someone rejected a story that I loved? That’s OK. Someone else might not.
One person who did not was Sandra Fluck, editor of The Write Launch. Sandra is one of those rare people who can give you such clear, critical feedback in a way that doesn’t hurt. The first time she published one of my stories, I remember being terrified of her edits, but I realized in the right hands, edits don’t have to sting. They’re meant to make you better, to show you something about your writing that you can’t see in the thick of it. That was an invaluable lesson for me.
I’ve published somewhere around ten short stories to date. The fact that I don’t even know the exact number is more telling than anything about where I am in my writing journey. Because that number doesn’t really matter anymore. That’s not why I do it. It’s part of who I am, and if the prospect of publishing didn’t even exist, I would still do it.
Three of my stories on The Write Launch were unique in the fact that they didn’t leave me once they were written. “The Long Sprint Home,” “Heading Home Again,” and “A Place to Call Home” were a part of something bigger. Those characters stayed with me, still whispering, nudging me to listen because they had a lot more to say.
So, that’s where I am now in my writing journey. I completed my first novel, Castle House, and I’m in the trenches of finding someone who thinks it deserves a chance to sit on bookshelves. It might take a while, but I think it will get there one day. And I’ll keep going because I have many more stories to tell. I can’t help it. It’s a part of who I am.