By Kathy Waller
When I was four years old, I took a pair of scissors and a roll of red, gooey adhesive tape and wrote my name on the inside of the kitchen door. It didn’t occurred to me I shouldn’t, and my parents never said a word. I’m sure they discussed it, but I wasn’t privy to that conversation. The crooked red letters stayed on the door for years. When they were finally removed, a heavy red stain remained.
When I was eight, my father gave me a ream of legal-sized paper. I produced a newspaper, one copy per issue, focusing on the social activities of dogs, cats, and horses in the neighborhood. I reported on the wedding of Mr. Pat Boone, my fox terrier, and Miss Bootsie, my grandfather’s cranky gray-and-white cat. Miss Bootsie was really Mr. Bootsie, but even then I knew the value of poetic license. Mr. Tommy, my cousin’s orange tabby, married someone, too, but I don’t remember whom or what gender. Or what genus and species for that matter.
For years, I loved writing—the paper, the pens, the ink, the facts, the improved facts, and the outright fiction.
The feeling lasted until high school, when I began taking courses labeled English. Writing became torture. What will I write about, how many words does it have to be, I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to say. Through high school and two college degrees–in English–I produced the required papers but agonized over every word.
There were bright spots: writing the junior class prophecy, which made even the teachers laugh when I read it at the junior-senior banquet; composing a satire on life in the teachers’ lounge, issued serially on an irregular basis–whenever the Muse moved me.
Overall, however, my relationship to writing remained conflicted. I did my best to camouflage the discomfort, though. After all, I taught English.
Things began to change when I told a therapist about my early love affair with words. He responded, “I think you’d better start writing.” He suggested I join the Austin Writers’ League.
The next day, I joined. James Michener didn’t object. I started taking informal classes at nearby universities. An instructor invited me to a Saturday-morning writing practice group. The next weekend, I drove fifty miles, parked in front of the café where it met, watched people carry notebooks inside, backed my car out, and drove home. It took another week to build the courage to pick up my notebook to join them and become a regular.
The result of all this effort? Once again, I fell in love with writing. I also fell in love with a member of the writing practice group and, after a decent interval, married him.
In my romance with writing, I didn’t live happily ever after. I don’t have a long list of appealing topics. I don’t have a file of perfect first sentences. I still have to write to find out what I know and what I think. I still find myself writing furiously right up to the deadline. (Or slightly after, as I am now.) Starting any piece is difficult. But once I begin, the words flow.
I wouldn’t exchange that feeling for anything.
In fifteen years, I’ve come from, I can’t join the Austin Writers’ League to I’m working on a novel, attending Austin Mystery Writers critique group, writing short stories for publication in an anthology, blogging, writing every day.
And, contrary to the moans I make when asked how the writing is going, I love every second of it.