In 2011, as the new mom of a 4-month-old, I was invited to my very first book group. This was in the middle of my long hiatus from writing, the decade or so during which I went to grad school, met and married my husband, moved seven times, had four babies, and started five new jobs. I wasn’t busy at all.
I didn’t have time to read (well, re-read) To Kill a Mockingbird before my first meeting, but I was ready to go for my second, a discussion of Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. Those were the only two meetings I attended, but the second was A Moment for me. Here’s my journal entry from that night (with a few minor edits).
If I hadn’t finished reading the book two weeks ago and had all that subsequent time to anticipate our discussion this evening, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. Last month, I hadn’t had time in four days even to skim the novel for my first book club meeting, though during the discussion, I desperately wished I had. So I voraciously devoured this month’s selection, having been proverbially “hooked” after the first few pages. How could I not be, when it was a death-defying, weather-related incident?
But our discussion, I thought, left much to be desired. When I wanted nothing more than to talk about the narrative voice, and the level of emotion conveyed, and the matter-of-factness of the work, it just turned out to be a series of questions like, “Remember when this happened? What did you think of that?” Or, “Do you think today’s generation would respond the same way?” Or, “I thought that one part was so funny,” which isn’t even a question at all, or even a prompt.
It reminded me of a Bible study I once attended, where the leader would read a passage, or even a single verse, and then ask the participants, “So, what do you guys think about that?” Nothing deep, nothing probing, no diving board into a multi-sided, thought-provoking exchange.
In any case, tonight people seemed more interested in talking about a certain relative who was similar to the main character, rather than the characters themselves. But, startlingly enough, it was during this part of the “discussion” that I made a great discovery.
I think I’m still a writer.
While everyone was talking about Grandma So-and-So, or Grandpa What’s-His-Name, my head starting spinning with novel ideas. No, not “new” ideas. Ideas for novels! Stories! Who knows, maybe even screenplays! I once fancied myself an up-and-coming screenwriter, imagining the day when, dressed in vintage Gucci and with a magnificent 1920s brooch bedazzling my upswept hair, I would accept my first Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Yes, my first Oscar.
So these stories suddenly started coming alive to me. The notebook I had brought to take notes of our discussion suddenly became my makeshift “idea book,” and tomorrow, when my baby wakes, I will go upstairs and get my real Idea Book, and I will copy these new novel ideas. And someday, when I need material for my fifteenth novel, there they will be, ready, waiting.
And ready, waiting, right now, is a little novel that I began to write about five years ago. I shall consider it a great accomplishment if I add even one sentence tonight, for it shall be the first sentence of fiction I have composed in years.
This was just one step on my path back to writing. I didn’t go back to that novel from five years earlier. In fact, it would be another 4.5 years before I got serious and sat down and finished my first novel (a completely different one), and another 5 years after that before I finished and polished my second one and began to seek publication. But just reading these words tonight gave me goosebumps.
I am still a writer. I always have been.
And I always will be.