Saturday, February 18, 2012

Slowly, Over Time


[The following was written in response to a recent Red Room Creative Challenge that asked members to describe the moment when they realized they were writers.]

I encountered no flash on the road to Damascus in becoming a writer, no falling on my face, crying “I hear you, Lord!”

(I don’t trust conversion experiences; it’s too easy to flip back, or flip on to another empty extreme; fanatics are much like vampires, draining the juicy life out of the flower they feed on and everyone around; their certainty makes them faithless.)

I started writing when I was maybe five or six, copying a story out of The World of Pooh. I quickly became bored with that. I still remember the tedium rising.

Shortly after, I attempted to “re-write” House of Dracula, one of the old Universal horror films. Then I made the mistake of showing it to a no-fused older brother.

“YOU’RE STEALING ANOTHER MAN’S STORY!” he bellowed with an outrage usually reserved for murderers, first-degree. I still recall the shame—Me, the grubby little thief, furtive, sneaking along the wall, returning to his hidden coffin at dawn.

Lesson learned: Don’t show your work to anyone. They’ll just get mad.

Of course, I eventually had to write book reports in school and the like and the teachers began commenting positively. Meanwhile, I was subsisting on a diet of Mad magazine, horror tales and desperate leaps to read the same books the grownups in my house were reading: Andersonville, Doctor Zhivago; much too young for these books. I should have been reading more Hardy Boys adventures, maybe also taken a break from Winnie-der-Pooh.

Soon, I was simply writing a lot and I still am fifty years later, with not much to show for it. But I keep going on, because I cannot not go on.

The drive, the urge, the habit, sunk in that slowly, that deeply, until it fused with my atoms. What else would I do if I didn’t sit here every day? Where would the wonder I sometimes feel at the blue sky out my window, at the butterfly flashing by go? What’s the point in keeping that a secret?

Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.

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