Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Writing and Life


Terry here answering our question of the week: 

How has writing changed your life, and how has life changed your writing? Since I have been making up stories and writing them down my whole life, I have to say that writing didn’t change my life—it IS my life. 

What did change my life was being published. I knew there had been a big change in my confidence the first time I spoke in front of an audience after my first book was published. That was a bookstore talk attended by 35 or so people. I stood up and realized I felt not a trace of nerves. Having my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, published gave me validation I’d never experienced. Talking about my writing was finally a legitimate thing to do. Before that, when I told people what I was writing, I felt like a fake—like I was playing at writing and everyone I talked to knew it.
Authenticity was important to me in feeling confident in the world. Now, I think it’s too bad that I had to have outside verification of my writing ability before I could feel authentic. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that was the case. That was true even though my dear mother-in-law raved over everything I wrote. She told me I was an amazing writer and that every word was perfect and she couldn’t understand why no publisher had snapped me up. As much as I loved hearing it, I knew that was her job—to tell me how wonderful my writing was. I still think that’s true. If you give your writing to friends and relatives, their job is to say your writing is fantastic. Leave it to your critique group, your editor, your agent, or a really trusted reader to tell you where you’ve gone wrong and what might be improved. 

 The deeper question is whether life has changed my writing. It has. Adverse events have deepened my emotional understanding. When you write, you call on life experience, and of course as you live, you have more experiences (yeah, goes without saying.) Experiencing marriage, divorce, remarriage, deaths of loved ones, birth of a child, raising the “difficult” child, all contributed to my writing. When people tell me that Samuel Craddock is wise and compassionate, I know part of that comes from my experience of trying to navigate life. 

 My life has been comparatively easy. I read about the troubles of some people and am in awe that they can continue to survive—and in some cases, thrive. Still, I’ve known enough of loss and pain to be able to empathize with those whose lives have been hard. I’ve also known enough of joy to know how profoundly it can affect people. And I hope all this translates into my writing. (Samuel Craddock believes firmly in justice, but he also has compassion for human frailty).
I’ve recently had a challenge that I’m curious to know how it informs my writing. Last week, after 27 years in a home I loved, in a community where I have deep ties, I packed up and moved with my husband to Southern California. Time will tell how the change will impact me. I know it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. But I also know it’s an adventure. It’s maybe a little too pat to say it’s a “new beginning,” but it’s certainly new. Where will it take my writing? Stay tuned. Move over, Raymond Chandler. Step aside, Michael Connelly. Make room, Rachell Howzell Hall. Terry Shames is moving in.


James W. Ziskin said...

Beautifully written piece, Terry. Hope to see you again soon.


Terry said...

Me, too, Jim. I miss you.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Terry. I know that feeling of validation after getting that first book published. And best of luck in the new digs.

Terry said...

Thank you Dietrich. Funny how the validation works, isn't it.