I wanted to write by the time I reached middle school. Even before that I was a story teller, making up tales for my little brother. When I was 12 I wrote my first short story, a ghost story. I sent it off to a girls’ magazine and didn’t tell anyone in spite of my pride, or perhaps because of it – I didn’t want anyone to make fun of my aspirations.
Being able to write lucid essays in high school and college, I suspect made me look smarter than I was. In fact I repeatedly got A’s in Geochemistry even though I didn’t understand much of it. I listened carefully when Prof. X repeated anything or otherwise indicated that a phrase or equation was important and regurgitated the verbiage back on exams. (I shouldn’t tell you this. I’m setting a bad example and they could revoke my geology degree!)
I took a creative writing course by correspondence when I lived in Costa Rica. That may have been the first time I heard “write what you know.” I was trying to write about themes and settings from well known books. Really would anyone want to read about my life in Puerto Limon? Could anyone relate to the mold growing in my carpet, the woman who removed sand from my toddler’s eye by licking it off his eyeball with her tongue, the landslides that closed both the road and the railroad for months during the rainy season or my two-hour siesta-lunches which I spent body surfing before rushing back to resume teaching my bilingual class to a group of third graders*?
(*Maria Luisa, Raul, Brian, et al my third graders – you are all grown up now. If you happen to read this: I remember you fondly and hope your lives are turning out nicely.)
At my next job, as an assistant hydrologist in New Zealand, I discovered that my colleagues didn’t like to write (what?) and I offered to write their reports for them. My boss** soon had me writing and researching the potential for gold in Otago in the South Island, because there were tentative plans to flood an area for a new dam.
(**Mr. Owen Borlase – I didn’t know how lucky I was to have a boss who valued his employees. Thank you for your support!)
In the evenings I kept a journal and wrote stories – just for myself and all long since discarded. I tried to continue this pattern after we moved to the States and my third (or was it my 4th ?) job as a hydrogeologic consultant. My “big break” came when my boss*** (the same one who once caressed my bum when I bent over a lower shelf for a report) called me into his office to tell me that he was giving my biggest client to an engineer (engineers were “superior” to geologists in the consulting world – at least if your boss was one). In fact it was the largest account our office had and I was rightly proud that it was mine. I told him if so, I would have to give my notice – which I did the next day after he said, “Now, now Cinda, don’t be difficult. You can assist him. You’re such nice girl and we all like you. ” (I was an 36 year old “girl” with two adolescents at home by now – and about to be downgraded.)
(*** Mr. Watkins – shame on you, on more than one count.)
The reason I say this was a “ break” is that that job was stressful with long hours, no appreciation – and little time for writing. Writing had become regulated to vacations. So I started consulting on my own and worked the same long hours to run a business, but I was in control of my time with less stress, more pride. There were periods when work was slow – but “What me worry?” – there was a cash flow problem, but I could write. Eventually I had all the work I wanted and had to turn down clients. A MBA friend pointed out that in the classic supply-demand situation, I could start charging more ….and perhaps working less (OK that part was my idea, not hers). As the possibility of early “retirement” materialized (or should I say blossomed?) I became very picky about clients. I was always too busy to schedule jerks. I worked half-time, taking only interesting jobs that paid well – and the rest of the time I began writing in earnest. Over the years I pretty much priced myself out of the consulting business. You may think me spoiled, but believe me I paid my dues to get to this point!
Here I am a few short stories and an awarding winning (I have to plug it don’t I?) novel later. What excuse do I have not to get the next one down on paper? (Can I ever retire?)