Friday, August 26, 2011

spark #3: learning to let it happen.

It's the last day! Let's get our Spark on! (hurry, quick before midnight--blaaagh!)

My freshman year in college, I had this English professor. His first name was Byron, and he was obsessed with Lord Byron (I remember wondering which had come first). He liked to assign research papers; I was not a fan. I enjoyed the writing, sure. But the researching? The figuring it all out and putting it back together again? All the while freaking out over whether or not I was plagiarizing? Ungh. So not my thing. (This is probably something I don't have in common with other writers, and that's okay, right?)

Anywho, after giving back papers one day, Lord Byron took me aside.
"Have you declared a major?" he asked.
I told him I was a theatre kid.
"Well, do you have a minor?"
I did, I told him.
"Well, I think you would do really well in English. You write a strong paragraph. The way the paragraphs fit together doesn't always make sense..."
I laughed. I knew it was true. I told him thanks and I would think about it.

It took me a long time to realize how cool this was. The next semester, when my minor fell through, I didn't have to look far for a new one. It seems sort of duh, Julie, especially after blogging about my sparks all week, but it really hadn't occurred to me that I was ALLOWED to write. To study writing, even! That was the last major step for me: just letting it happen.

This is the interior cover.
My hardback has big
embossed lettering on the side
that says, "hold me," so
sometimes I just call this book
"Hold Me."

By the end of my college career, I was burnt out on everything. It happens, you know. One day, at a local bookshop in Louisville, I found this weird little gem:      

I learned a lot from Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things... I learned that short stories are truly awesome, and that's there's actually a corner in publishing for quirky--who knew?

But the most important thing I gained from this odd book was my introduction to Kelly Link. Her contribution, "Monster" (also found in her book, Pretty Monsters), is one of my favorite things EVER. It's deliciously bizarre and brave and funny, not to mention horrifying. And it was written in a way that made perfect sense to me. With every word, I saw that I could write in whatever voice came to me--something I had not done in class, out of fear.

Overcome with joy, I emailed my creative writing professor about the contest in the back of the book. Good gracious, I was a little motorboat about it. I'll never forget his response: "See, now this is the kind of voice I want to hear from you." I finally understood what that meant!

I never did enter that contest, though. Truth be told, it would still be several years before I'd start writing seriously. However! It was the summer after I read Noisy Outlaws that I first got The Idea. Major spark points.

All right. One last thing. You want to know the spark that finally got me to put fingers to keyboard?

Reading writers' blogs. When I discovered this, it was like a whole new education opened up for me. I didn't know one thing or the other about publishing, which was my own fault for not being more dedicated to my classes in college (plays take a lot of time and I was LAZY). I let myself think it was over for a long time. I told myself I could just write for me and it wouldn't ever have to be perfect (lies!). But then, slowly, I realized, I can do this. I can do this without going back to school! And I won't be alone, and I won't be judged, and I won't feel guilty for trying.

So, this is for the friends who told me I should blog (and followed me from the very beginning), the friends I've made--and continue to make--on the blog (yeah, I'm talking to you. :B), and the writers, published and unpublished, who've taught me more than I ever realized I would need to learn.

Thank you thank you thank you.

Sparks to all!
( See? I'm still a worried mess when it comes to plagiarizing.)


  1. If your fiction is as funny/quirky as your blog, it's wonderful. :D Great posts for Sparkfest!

  2. I really enjoyed this post, I love your voice and humour. Yay for finding you through the campaign :-)

  3. I am a fellow campaigner and enjoyed your post. I look forward to reading more.

  4. Here is a secret for you and only you: Herschel's appearance made me launch a snot rocket onto my hand. :>*) Just like that.

    Also, that book? Making me drool. Goodness. My bodily functions are getting out of hand...

  5. It's all about learning, isn't it? First you think you know, then you think you might need to know more, and finally you know you don't know nothing. That's when the real learning starts. Welcome to the "Learning Club." I've been here a long time. Oh, and glad to revisit your blog while I'm on the Campaign trail.

  6. Reading other writer's blogs is certainly a motivator. You want to be like, "Heya, I'm writing a book too-oohkay it's been a little while..." *comes back two days later* "Yeah, I work on my book EVERY day!"

    Hee, glad it's not just me.
    Or did I just put words in your mouth.

  7. loved that spark story!
    i had to grow up and experience more life to find my spark. so glad i did, a nice surprise!
    happy writing!

  8. Julie! I'm passing an award on to you, since your blog is made of awesome. :) The details are all here:

  9. Reading writers' blogs....lovely spark! Nice to meet you and stopping by via the campaign :)

  10. I've seen this spark blogfest on a few blogs, and I LOVE the idea! I have to think about what "sparked" my writing! Thanks for visiting my blog...I'll be back to visit your's soon!

  11. Hi fellow campaigner! It's nice to meet you!

  12. Hi fellow campaigner. Great post. It's good to get that kind of mentor/support for writing.

  13. Wait, there's a book of (1) bizarre short stories (2) from McSweeney's (3) introduced by Lemony Snicket (4) with a hilarious title and spine message to boot? HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?!

  14. I love that your profile starts with "I believe in Jesus". Awesome :-)

    xx Campaigner Rachel

  15. I'm wondering how I didn't know about that book either! Loved reading this.

    I'm stopping by on the campaign trail, saying hello ("hello" *waves*) and clicking on the follow button.

    Have a delightful, writerly week,

  16. Not everyone can say they took a class from Lord Byron. Sweeet. Great blog, love the honesty.

  17. Great spark! I hadn't heard of that book, either, but it sounds very interesting. Funny to have a teacher named Byron who was obsessed with Lord Byron.

  18. Hey fellow campaigner, nice to meet you. Great post, I think every writer has that moment when someone tells them that they can write. It can literally be life changing.

  19. I'll have to add the Pretty Monsters book to my reading list; sounds like something right up my alley.

    BTW, I'm another Campaigner (Short Story group); happy trails and happy writing!


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