“And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”
I can hear David Byrne singing that as I type.
Though I just Googled it to make sure I had the quote right, and some sites do it this way:
”And you may ask yourself, well, ‘How did I get here?’”
If you’re a grammar geek, feel free to contemplate the deep meaning in that punctuation difference.
But back to the core question. How did I get here? That is, what’s my journey as a writer?
A curvy road, that’s for sure.
I did not always know I wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I wrote often, but it never really occurred to me that writing could be a profession as well as a pastime. In those days, I wanted to be a dentist, partly because my dentist was awesome, and partly because of Hermy from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: “I’ll be a dentist!”
So, fast forward to my college years. I debated between grad school in English and law school, but since everyone I met who went to law school was miserable, I decided on grad school in English. I didn’t know what I wanted to DO with that degree. I just knew I wanted to know more. About what? Everything, but first and foremost, books.
After earning my Ph.D., I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had a big honkin’ student loan to pay off, so I started teaching. Turns out, I liked it. Maybe even loved it. I was getting paid to talk about books! Every day! I could even pick which books we got to talk about. I was getting to hear new, fresh ideas all the time from the students around me, and we passed our enthusiasm back and forth like a contagion.
Even the classes that were less than enthusiastic were still filled with pretty nice people, and I spent some great years in their company. My days were filled with books and writing, and life felt good.
Except for one thing. The books inside me, the unwritten books, would call to me in the night. Sometimes I would see the characters walking around sad and lost, waiting for their stories to be told. I asked them, begged them, to wait for me, to wait until there was more time. But I was afraid. Afraid they’d leave me and find someone who could tell their stories right then, right now. Or worse, that they’d just shrivel and die.
I knew I couldn’t let that happen.
So, I started writing in scraps. I scrawled little notes on scraps of paper during stray bits of free time —waiting for a class to arrive, waiting for my car to warm up in the winter (I lived in Michigan then)— but as a conscientious teacher, teaching never left my thoughts, and when you add that mental time to the 60+ hours a week I was already spending commuting, grading, lesson planning, prepping, reading for class, emailing, helping students with essays, and teaching itself, there wasn’t room for much else.
But here’s the strange part. The characters didn’t wither and die. They got stronger. Their voices got louder and more insistent.
After I got tenure, I was finally able to take summers off. I wrote. I wrote every day. I started the day after graduation and went until Labor Day, sometimes resting one day a week, but often not. I would get up at 6am and write until I couldn’t write anymore. I wrote and wrote and wrote.
I’d never been happier.
Until school started again. I still loved the students, with their bright ideas and sharp pencils, but I knew where I belonged. I belonged with my characters. And they belonged out in the world.
Four summers later, in the hardest decision of my life, I left teaching.
I’m a writer.
So, that’s where I am. One completed manuscript, three more in progress, trying to get those stories where they belong…out in the world.
And that’s how I got here.
— Trinna S. Frever, Ph.D.