Who, What and Why I Write…and a Hurricane

Photo copyright to PromptProofing.com

I’ve mentioned before that I write in my spare time, so I thought I would dedicate a post to my writing journey, for those of you interested or for fellow writers. No doubt this post will bore the life out of a lot of you, but hopefully it resonates with someone out there!

Since I was seven years old, I have written stories, poems, books. I wrote 10-page long books on my mom’s electronic typewriter (that’s right, even before we had a computer! And I’m only 26, people – this was in 1992). The books were called The Shooting Stars, based on my group of friends and me. In the books, my friends and I formed a “club” called The Shooting Stars. We had really, really tame adventures (hey, I was seven!). As in: the plot of a book would cover how we met up after school to go for milkshakes and talk about what to wear to school the next day. And I think my characters were aged 12 or so and I thought that was so old in my little seven-year-old mind.

But the funny thing? Those characters somehow stuck with me. The main character is no longer based on myself, but the friends have stuck around and I’ve since given them pseudonyms. The series is still called The Shooting Stars but the books are now 200-300 pages long, are written on my Macbook and The Shooting Stars is now a charity run by the 16-year-old friends rather than a club formed by 12 year olds.

I took a break from the characters when I was 10 or so, but when I was 14 I let out all of my teenage feelings and confusion in writing. I read vociferously, but when I’d read everything I wanted and couldn’t be bothered to wait for my favourite authors to write more, I went into my room and pounded out more Shooting Stars books filled with the characters and storylines I wanted to read. Why wait for the authors to write them? I just wrote them myself. At that point I was the books’ only reader, so who cared what I wrote, really? And I could control the ending entirely, so I would always be satisfied with how the characters’ lives turned out. This phase was totally about creating my own entertainment (this was definitely a shy/awkward phase – as you can tell, I didn’t get out much at 14). The wonderful author Toni Morrison once said:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

My writing career has been entirely dictated by this quote – even before I had ever read the quote :). If you don’t want to read it, why write it? And if it’s already been written, why reinvent the wheel, right?

Well, as I said, I was a crazily productive writer when I was 14 and by the time I was 16 I had written 32 Shooting Stars books which were at least 200-300 pages each. Yeah, it was a long series!

Being careful, I transferred the electronic copies of my books onto my mom’s laptop when I sold mine before going off to university. And I also spent a lot of money printing those books – lots of paper and ink needed! – and stored them in the bottom drawers of my dresser in my bedroom. Once high school exams and college applications – and my first relationship – came along, I was way too busy to write, so they stayed safely stored away.

In September 2003, I left Cayman for the University of British Columbia where I would pursue a Bachelors degree in English Literature.

Just mere days after my second year of university started in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman as a Category 5 hurricane. That summer my family had just seen the completion of the first house we have ever built. Everything was brand new. See? (Click on collage to enlarge).


The photo below is from the only family photoshoot my family has ever done – in front of our newly completed house in the summer of 2004:

Copyright to picturethis.ky

The hurricane tore off roof tiles, flooded the house (the water level was at thigh height) and destroyed all of our furniture. Our house swam in muddy rainwater for days after the hurricane, until the heat and sun finally allowed it to evaporate. My parents were the only members of our family on island at the time, and they waited out the storm by sitting on our kitchen countertops all night after lifting everything valuable that they could find to safety. My cat Mango had escaped to the top of the kitchen cupboards.

At some point, when the wind had died down a little, my parents crossed the flood waters in the yard and were pulled to safety by a human chain to our next door neighbours – a two-floor apartment building on higher ground than us, so they were dry, Hallelujah! There they were able to get one phone call through to my aunt in England who was able to call me in Vancouver and my sister, who was travelling, and assure us that our parents were safe. Pretty soon after that the phone networks died and no contact was possible for a while. (Click on collage below to enlarge).


I didn’t experience the hurricane firsthand, so I should let my mom write a better post for you on her hurricane experience some time if you are interested in hearing more. The point of me telling you about this is that I never even thought about what we lost during the storm. You don’t, when it happens. You just think of the important stuff. But later, much later, it emerged that many of our childhood and baby photos had been ruined (they were in storage in my mom’s classroom – she’s a school teacher and was storing some goods of ours in her classroom as we were still slowly moving into our new home). And then I found out that my parents had had to throw away the contents of my lower dresser drawers as they were flooded. They hadn’t known my books were in there.

This only seems like the disaster it was when you I explain that the month before the hurricane, my mom’s laptop (holding my only electronic copies of the books) had been stolen. That’s right. I lost every one of those 32 books.

I quickly realized that this was God’s way of telling me that they sucked :). Or maybe not that they sucked but that the basic ideas and characters were good and I needed to work on them from scratch and take them in a different direction – and once I have something written I rarely rewrite it. It feels so pointless. But now I had to. So perhaps that was the kick in the butt I needed.

So, fast forward a few years, and I’ve finished my degree and have some time again to write.

Copyright to The Guiltless Life

I have now written an adult nonfiction book, several poems, a couple of short stories, the beginnings of an adult fiction novel and…yes, the first three of the Shooting Stars series from scratch (with several edits along the way). The plot of the second one centres around a hurricane – go figure :).

I feel like the first two books are at a point where they could be looked at. I have tried querying agents but without much success, as is often the case when doing unsolicited submissions to agencies. So I think I’m ready to try some more aggressive approaches to getting published. But sharing what you’ve written with anyone other than close friends and families is scary. I’ve already taken the first step, but I’ll write more about that soon as this post is 1300 words already and that is 1200 words too many for a lot of you. My apologies!

If I can work up the courage, and if I think anyone cares :), I’ll post an excerpt from some of my writing on the blog. That would be truly terrifying, but perhaps a good way of facing the fear. One thing I do know, though: you must pursue your passion. It is the only way to truly live your life. So go for it! All of you! Let’s all be brave together :).

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Comments

  1. You are seriously amazing and strong! I am sorry to hear about that hurricane you guys experienced, that is horrible, and I am sure it was very devastating in many ways, and with the pics being ruined too : (

    I believe everything does happen for a reason, I dont know if your books sucked and thats why they disappeared, but I do know that I am happy to hear you graduated and have wrote again! I bet the books are amazing, and just you doing what you love is amazing, no matter what!

    Love ya!

    Thanks for sharing this! It is funny too, that we are both moving at same time! Good luck with yours! xoxo

    • You are just so kind to have even read through that whole thing lol! And your words are very sweet. I truly do believe there is a silver lining to every cloud…sometimes it takes longer than others to see it but it’s always there! xxx

  2. I had no idea you had lost your work in the hurricane. That’s just terrible. You deserve a great deal of respect for writing the first three again. I love the fact that you’re sticking with your idea. Edits and rewrites are essential though, as you know. There’s a story about George Eliot that helps me sometimes, perhaps you’ve come across it? She wrote 100,000 words of a novel and discarded it, before starting again, and she wrote in longhand.

    • Thanks Aunty P! I love that story, and yes rewrites suck but I will have to just get used to them! I think as well if anyone ever wanted to publish me but told me I had to do edits, well, geez, that might just give me a bit of extra motivation ;)! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  3. I never knew how bad the hurricane was…you are so courageous to pick back the pieces up and start anew…I’m so so proud of you and know that you will go very far in life ..would love to see some of the excerpts from your book, I love the message your giving out, you don’t see many books written with this message for teens 🙂

    • Afi thank you for your comments, you’re the best friend I could ever have and I am so appreciative of your ongoing support. Love you lots – and you’re going to do a guest post for me soon, right? I’m going to get you blogging for sure 🙂 !!!

  4. That’s such a great quote from Toni Morrison. Dido said a similar thing when she explained that she became a songwriter because she wanted to write songs she would like to hear on the radio.
    And “pursue your passion” – absolutely! Hear, hear.
    Well done for sticking with the Shooting Stars and starting over!

  5. I totally know how you feel about putting your writing out there. I’ve written a whole novel, largely based on my experiences in my early 20s…I call it “therapy” and after sending it off to a freelance editor and to a lovely agent, it’s also called “practice,” and since been put away and I’ve accepted that that may be all it ever is. I have started a second novel, which I feel is a lot more promising, but I’ve been pretty…stagnant…since Christmas of last year. So many things going on in my life prevent me from spending much time on my writing…but it’s really more than just things to do. I find my brain is too full of other stuff, lots of changes going on in my life, and its hard to focus when all you can think about are your wedding and buying a house and needing to get a new car and nephews being born and a honeymoon and medical problems and the list goes on and on and on. I know it’s a lousy excuse, but pair it with constant fatigue resulting in a gross lack of motivation to do anything and you’ve got me…wrapped in a shroud of guilt for not powering through my challenges to make time (and brain space) for what I love. My head is a scary place to live. LOL.

    Good luck with your writing, though. Keep me posted!

    • I routinely go through periods where I don’t write at all – years even. It just comes when it comes…I definitely find when I’m really sad or really happy I am especially inspired haha. And when I was on vacay I wrote a lot because I just had the time! It is something that requires time which is why a lot of people end up doing it when they retire, I suppose. But at the end of the day, blogging is writing in my mind. No, it’s not as planned or as well phrased or constructed as a book, but any good writer will tell you that writing every day, no matter what it is, is crucial. It’s like any talent – it needs practice! Good for you for sending your book off because that does take guts, and for having other ideas too. One thing that is hard is that when you’re a writer you can get quite attached to your work, but ultimately if it’s not the right book for the market – and agents will tell you that much in no uncertain terms – then it’s worth it to let it go.

      I was told that my young adult series was great conceptually and the voice was there but that it’s not the right time in the market. So I haven’t ditched them, but I have definitely shelved them. The agent assured me that the market is cyclical and there will come a time in the future when everyday teenage stories are back in demand, and to bring it back to the querying status then. But for now there’s no point in me spending time and energy on them, so I have shifted my focus to adult fiction. As long as you’re writing, right?? Best of luck with your 2nd book and don’t stress not finding the time – it’ll come when it’s meant to xxx

      • PS Most writers’ heads are scary places to live – I think yours sounds beautiful! 🙂 We need to be scary to be creative, right? 😉

      • LOL! Yes! I believe there must be some scary present in order to make up a whole world that exists only in our heads!

        I can see how any YA story that doesn’t involve vampires or epic journeys or some crazy fantastical world would get a little lost in today’s market. But definitely hold on to them until the time is right! Sometimes that’s all its about: timing.

        Writing has always been a rock for me. It’s always been there, something I can count on, something that won’t change. That’s part of why I started my blog. I wanted to write every day, and obviously my head wasn’t able to handle wrapping itself around something as complex as a full length story. So here I am. Like you said, it’s not always as pretty as fiction, but it’s writing all the same!

Trackbacks

  1. […] couple of weeks ago, I said that I had taken the first step in putting myself out there with my writing. As that post was already crazy long, I said I would […]

  2. […] was Children’s Literature. Perhaps because my aunt is a children’s author, or because when I write I tend to prefer to write for young adults. Who knows, either way I loved it. And in this course […]

  3. […] is another young adult book – as those of you have read my blog for a while know, because I write young adult I prefer to read that in my spare time too as it helps me ‘keep up’ with my […]

  4. […] That Received the Most Heartfelt Response: This one about my writing, the hurricane my family went through, the books that I had written that were destroyed in that […]

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