Elaine Marie Carnegie
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A WRITER
By Virginia Watts
Please welcome Virginia Watts to the Writers Journey Blog this week. She has touched on one of the reasons I love this blog so well. The spirit we all share.
It is a boring way to start because it is the same thing everyone says, but I have always been a writer. By that I mean, I have always been drawn to creating with words. It is just something that happens, and I hope it always will. I remember my fifth-grade teacher Ms. Groff allowing me to stay inside during recess to work on my creative writing. My pencil would hit the paper and never stop flying until the bell rang. I wish I’d kept those notebooks. I do remember one story was entitled “Peanut Butter and Peas.”
The only advice I ever give about writing is to not put it off for another day, another year, another decade. You could say that about anything a person has always wanted to concentrate on. Although I wanted to study creative writing in college, it was the late 1970s and my parents believed that writing was something better done as a hobby. They advised choosing a degree with more employment potential. So I immersed myself in college as an accounting major, followed by law school, jobs, and young children. All along promising myself that someday I would take the time to write “for real.”
While I did write some stories here and there while attending a handful of Adult Night School writing classes, it was not until my children were in college that I began writing in earnest. One afternoon I was sitting at my desk playing a mindless hidden object game on my desktop computer, and it hit me like a cascade of bricks. What the hell was I doing? I immediately deleted the game and opened a new document. The first line I wrote began: “I hope your life doesn’t turn out to be a big, fat waste of time…”
What followed has been a nine-year journey filled with many hours of writing, an indescribable joy, supplemented by writing classes, seminars, workshops, getaways, weekly prompt and critique groups. When I began writing again, I also began learning about the craft of writing. I gobbled up classes in every genre: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and I still do. I really enjoy the company of other writers whose critiques of my work have been invaluable, and I also love reading and critiquing work for other writers. Writing can be a lonely process but there are communities of writers everywhere looking for comradery and mutual support.
Early on in this process, I put together a novel beginning with those first words I quoted above. I then applied and was accepted to attend The Writer’s Hotel Conference in New York City with this novel. As part of TWH, Editors Shanna McNair and Scott Wolven review and critique an attendee’s full novel length manuscript before you even arrive for the conference. Here’s where the tears come in. I had attempted too much too soon. I had taken too big a bite. The novel consisted of short stories I had already written pieced together, and it showed. It flat out didn’t work. In my heart, I think I knew that. However, Shanna and Scott, fellow writers themselves, gave me the two things I needed most. Honesty and the confidence to keep going. The message was: You can definitely write. Maybe this manuscript didn’t come together, but you can definitely write. Keep going!
And I did keep going. The first pieces I wrote were creative nonfiction. I did worry that what I was writing about wasn’t important enough. It was just about human life, more or less. To get me over that hurdle, I often reached for one of my collections of Charles Bukowski poems and read. Bukowski wrote about anything he felt like and never apologized for that – even the flies in the window across from his typewriter – and when you are done reading him, you are in a completely different place. Gradually, over time, I began worrying less about what I wanted to write about if it mattered that I didn’t have an MFA, if I would ever be published and all the other fears and insecurities all writers torment themselves with.
After a few years, I also began writing poetry and fiction.
Learning how to attempt to publish my work was a learning curve all its own. It took me some trial and error to understand how best to send my work out. It is hard for me to believe but to date, I have placed nearly sixty pieces in various literary journals and magazines, and I am thrilled to have two poetry chapbooks coming out from Moonstone Press and a collection of short stories out in the spring of 2023 from The Devil’s Party Press. I still remember those early rejections. They did hurt and they were disappointing, but I was never derailed by rejections. My mindset as far as my writing has remained simple. This is what I have to offer. This is me. I got nothing else!
My first acceptance was a nonfiction piece accepted by The Ponder Review. It was thrilling to see my words on a printed page. I don’t think any writer forgets that first time. However, every writer also knows that while being published is a great honor, it doesn’t fuel or sustain the process of writing. If you love to write, you’ll write no matter who reads it or likes it.
I believe that the best writers in the world we will never read, because they don’t bother to seek publication. Kind of a haunting truth when you think about all we are missing.
The only other person I want to mention is a man whose name I have forgotten. I was attending a summer semester at Penn State University, and somehow I squeezed in a class on creative writing. One day, the professor stood up in front of the class and read a story I had written as a response to one of his assignments. It was a story about my older brother drawing an ominous number in the Vietnam draft. Of course, the professor was quick to mention my story was far from a perfect story but he did say “it was a damn good one.” After class, when I thanked him, he asked what my major was, nodded, and wished me luck.
Bio: Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, CRAFT, Sunspot Literary Journal, Sky Island Journal, Permafrost Magazine, Bacopa Literary Review Wisconsin Review, Dark Lane Anthology Series among others. Winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net Nonfiction 2019 and 2020, two of her poetry chapbooks are upcoming for publication by The Moonstone Press and a short story collection from The Devil’s Party Press in spring 2023. She has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize.