Margaret Atwood and Origins

Part mentor post, part Origins Blogfest (this one’s a big ‘un…and how’s that? From no blogfests to two in three days!).

In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination, Atwood has a series of essays about how she came to write science fiction – or speculative fiction, depending on what definition you use – so I was thinking about not only why I write but why I write what I do.

Why I write kind of boils down to my friend Shelagh. There’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln that goes something like this: “I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” It’s rather like that. Prior to a certain evening in a pool hall (don’t ask) I was convinced I was going to be an actress. I did something like twelve community plays in four years, had just started auditioning for movies/commercials and was on my way to the BIG TIME in my head. Kind of. (Ah, teenagers.)

But I’d always fiddled with stories. I’d write bits and pieces down, show them to my friends, and that was about it.

So, I’m playing pool with Shelagh and someone in the bar asks, “What do you do?” At that moment my answer was a big fat nothing. I’d fallen into a total funk – you guys know the kind: “Life means nothing, I have no goal, no vision, no nothing.” And Shelagh, who had read my fiddling and was a character in a couple of the fiddles, answered for me: “She’s a writer.”

I said: “I’m a writer.” That was that. It was a perfect fit. I’m now kind of obsessive…anyone who talks to me will tell you that. It’s really all I talk/think/dream about. Stories and how to tell ’em good.

Margaret Atwood has been making me think about why I write what I do.

She has this great essay on flying rabbits – her early version of superheroes. She writes about her influences and how they impacted her. This got me thinking about my own influences.

Honestly, I think I lost the way to my stories for a while – and I bet that a lot of other writers feel that way too. First, I was convinced I was going to be a horror guru (I love Stephen King, read my way through John Saul and Dean Koontz in my teenage years, and I owe a great deal of pre-teen sleepless nights to R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike). Then I went to school and was surrounded by these wonderful – and I mean wonderful – literary writers; only students then, but it’s just a matter of time for these guys. I was taught poetry, the classics, and was introduced to the moden geniuses of Sherman Alexie, Tim O’Brien, and Toni Morrison. When I saw what they could do, I was so jealous that I couldn’t do what they could do…and I tried really hard.

Got a couple under the drawer novels to prove it.

Recently, I think I’ve gotten a handle on the stuff I want to write. If you refer to my Booklove Blogfest post, you’ll see that the big sweeping stories are my favorite. I’m working on one right now. Would I say that it’ll be the super-mega-blockbuster that those are? Hell, I can’t even say if it’ll be published.

What I can say is that I’ve finally internalized that you should write what you want to read. There’s a difference between hearing this bit of advice in every single writing blog and every single writing book and actually internalizing the information. Because once you actually own the idea that you should love your story first, the process loses the grind. It becomes fun. It becomes not what you should be doing, but what you want to do. (There’s still plenty of shoulds that come along, don’t worry.)

Basically, wherever you’ve come from with your writing, as long as you’re honest with yourself about where you’re going with it, it’s a gift.

Oh, and don’t let your friends down.  

blogfest Margaret Atwood Mentors why I write

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Yah for good friends. I totally understand your thoughts on internalizing. You can be told something over and over, but until you decide, it's just not going to happen.

    THanks for sharing.

  2. Hello Jenny!

    Great post! Very inspirational :D. You're right! I've heard that advice (love what you write) a million times, but until I really made it a point to only write what I love, I didn't know where my voice was or what it was trying to say! Once we can own our voice, we will own our writing and THEN we can create!

    Very nice to meet you!

  3. For so many, the love of reading is the precursor to the love of writing. It's interesting to see your authorial voice develop…your early influences inspire you, but when you come into your own that's when it gets really cool!

  4. Sometimes our friends know us better than we do ourselves, eh? Or maybe they give us that little push we need. Also, I like your point about writing what you love to read. Only problem is, what if I like to read all over the place??? Seriously, I'm having the hardest time picking a genre to stick with, with writing. But in the meantime I'm having fun genre-jumping!

  5. That's a wonderful quote from Lincoln, and a wonderful story about how you began as a writer. My husband was the one who pushed me out of the nest and made sure my writing got out into the world. I don't want to let him down, either.

  6. I have friends who called me a writer…but I poo pooed them and followed other paths for way too long. I wish I listened, the way you did to your friend Shelagh. But I'm listening now. Great Origins post!

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