Two year ago about this time, I was introduced to an upcoming class on fiction writing. I had dabbled with it off and on my whole life. And when I say dabbled, I mean I had written a trilogy, published several poems and a short story, and had the beginnings of four other novels. To me, that was dabbling.
I was thrilled with the prospect of learning more about novel writing and eagerly joined the classes.
But my thrill was not long lived. Even though the novels I had written followed all the steps that were laid out by the “famous” author who was teaching the class, nothing I wrote was ever good enough. It was disheartening to be told repeatedly that nothing was good enough without any explanation on how to make it better. All I received were short blunt blurbs written in red ink “You can do better than this” or some other comment as trivial and unhelpful.
I wasn’t the only one who felt the frustration, but me being me, I was one of the only ones who voiced it, which didn’t help anything.
By six months into the class I was ready to give up writing forever. I didn’t see the point any more. It wasn’t fun. It was boring. The classes were formulaic. The method taught was another “how-to” book. Follow the steps and you will write a novel. Thunk.
Excuse me while I go melt over here.
As a last ditch effort, I signed up for a writing conference at a small community college in an out of the way place. The keynote speaker scheduled was David Morrell.
Me being the newbie to the writing world that I was, and having never been one to know who anyone was anyway whether they were famous or not, I had no idea who this man was. I mean he was coming to speak at this tiny little conference in the middle of nowhere. What was I supposed to expect?
I sat in the auditorium that first night, through the introductions, the music, and the poetry readings … miserable, dejected, certain that it would be the LAST writing conference I ever attended. And as Mr. Morrell was introduced, his accolades drawn out at length, I slouched in my chair ready for a nap.
At the end of the intro, this lithe short elderly man stood up, straightened out the legs on his blue jeans, tugged on the lapel of his jacket, and walked to the mic. He adjusted black rimmed glasses on the nose of his bald head and began speaking.
Until this point, I was completely unimpressed. My reaction – oh yeah, another famous author. oh goody. oh joy.
But within a few words, the deep melodic voice was weaving a tale of a little boy lying under his bed telling himself stories, day dreaming, using magic to disappear in the midst of a terrifying world. The writing friends on either side of me vanished. The flashing exit light, in the corner of my eye, fizzled away. And suddenly, there I was alone listening to him speak about being a writer.
His passion saturated my dying dreams with a hope I had lost along with marriage and babies and sketching out an existence the only way I could, with autism, and cancer, and unexpected deaths, and a gripping poverty that never ends.
And I cried, sitting there in the dark of that auditorium filled with a hundred other souls, tears poured down my face and dripped into my shirt. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak.
Here was an author who wasn’t telling me “how-to” and handing out an outline of step-by-step instructions.
Here was a man showing me how to have passion for doing the one thing I have always loved to do more than anything else in this world.
That day I was born as a writer, the frustration turned into passion, my future the only reality I knew.
I can not say enough about the role passion plays in life, anyone’s life, at any point in time. Without passion, we are but walking zombies waiting on the end. It is what drives us on, picks us up in the middle of the storm, and connects us to other human beings.
I have classmates from high school on my facebook feed that amaze me every single time I read what they are doing. Running, weight lifting, quilting, filling the world with glitter, flitting off to Burning Man, cheering on their kids, teaching, traveling, cooking … it’s all passion that we share and its that passion that makes us who we are. It’s the passion that I see, that I admire, that inspires me to keep going.
A passion I’m not sure I would have found had I not been at that conference and heard that man speak. David Morrell is nothing if not passionate about writing, passionate about teaching other writers … and I hope someday I can be that too and inspire others to be passionate as well.