Sunday, September 27, 2009

What Is Writing To You?

Exactly one month ago I would have answered that question in this direct way:

"Writing is the air I breathe. Publishing short stories and essay aren’t enough.
I have to publish a book soon or people won’t believe I am a successful writer.
Writing is who I am."

Ah, but in five minutes everything can change drastically.

It was August 26, 2009, another hot day here in Atlanta. Ella, my nine year old, and I had walked home from her robotics team meeting. She talked about the homework she had and how unfair it was. I told her that was how life could be sometimes. My mind was on my novel in-progress and how I never had enough time to write. I was hoping to get in a few pages before bedtime. At home Ella did her homework, while I checked my email and wrote a couple of pages on the novel. Life was so normal. When she was finished, she asked to go play next door—we live on a cul-de-sac. I agreed never taking my eyes from the screen.

A few minutes later I stopped and decided to check on her. The back of our house faces the neighbor’s yard, so I opened the door and saw her playing under the carport with the two boys. Life was good.

I closed the door, picked out supper ingredients and went to turn the TV to the local news. Five minutes had passed. I saw the four year old boy from next door walking through my yard. I sighed. He liked to come over and borrow Ella’s toys. I answered the door.

“Ella’s in trouble with the police.” He smiled.

I laughed. “Tell her to come home. It’s almost time to eat.” I guessed they were playing some sort of game.

I closed the door, but something told me to go the back door, the very door I had opened five minutes earlier. When I opened it this time, I saw a police officer squatting on the side of the road.

Writing those words still paralyze me. I knew something horrible had happened.

The two images that remain with me even now are the police officer squatting—I couldn’t see my daughter, only the back of his blue uniform and dark hair—and one of her sandals with the strap broken turned over in the middle of the road. Believe me I was living every parent’s nightmare. Ella had be struck by the police officer’s car. There had been no noise loud enough to give me a warning, no squealing tires.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Stay with me I have a point.

I spent the next three hours talking to my daughter. She was awake, alert, but very afraid and in bad pain. Around me were crowds of EMTs, police, family, and neighbors. But my life contained only my daughter, who would be ten in three days. Ten. Please let her become ten! I held her hand and talked while I spoke to God in my mind. Helicopters swarmed above us, the news stations. My husband arrived, answering questions I could not answer. And then we were on our way to the hospital by ambulance. I realized maybe it wasn’t so bad. They didn’t life-flight her.

When the doctor told us two hours later that Ella had a mild concussion, a deep cut to the eye, and badly bruised knee, my legs went weak. For the first time I cried.

“She can go home. Just watch her. No sports, running, or jumping for a month.” Then the doctor smiled. “Looks like you’ll have that birthday party on Saturday.”

In that moment I saw my life in a crystal clear light.

In the days to come, I couldn’t write. Honestly I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again. Did it matter? The drive with which I pushed to the computer everyday; did it change anyone’s life? Did it make a difference? I spent hours just sitting next to Ella. This really bugged her at times, but she put up with me. I couldn’t sleep without seeing the haunting images of the accident. Yet, Ella was alive, and I had a chance to really make my life count for something, to show her how living life was done.

A few more days passed and finally I opened my journal and began to write. I wrote about writing. I knew that all my struggles to be ‘successful’ were not as important as putting my pen to the paper. I would give myself to writing whether I ever published another piece again. I would have fun. I would give a voice to all my concerns, to those people in my past that could no longer speak for themselves. I would continue to write books whether I published them or not. I would honor the characters that popped up in my head, whether they were marketable or not. My writing is my gift, talent and from this grows my passion. Life is about passion.

Funny thing is since I made this shift in attitude, doors have opened. I have two publishers interested in my novel. I’ve published several short stories, and I’m reviewing books, by request, for a New York publisher. I have to believe that relaxing into my art—because it is art—has cleared the way. I now spend more time enjoying my writing, having fun for the sake of fun. I’ve agreed to teach an after school reading class at Ella’s school once a week. I joined a book club. I now know that my books will be published. I might not know when or with what publisher, but it will happen, and that’s fine with me. You see, I look at my family and realize how fragile life is.

What is writing to you? Is writing your only identity? Would you write just for fun? Is it something you wish after but can’t seem to put your hands around? Do you defeat your chances by never writing yucky first drafts?

Take it from a writer who learned the hard way. Success is never enough. Each publication just sets the bar higher. To enjoy writing, you must put the business part to the side for another time. It cannot be the most important goal in your dream.

You must find joy in writing, in creating characters that come to you in the middle of the night and radically change your plot. You must be willing to write the worst dribble in the world and have fun doing it. Many writers are successful and don’t enjoy their work. Life is too short.

What is writing to me, now? It is my art, just one of the many things that make me the woman I am.

What is writing to you?

Bio: Ann Hite's Beautiful Wreck, my second novel, was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest earlier this year. The novel is now being shopped by her agent.

In May of 2008 she was chosen as featured artist for The Dead Mule, a literary magazine. They published 18 of her selected Black Mountain Stories. Then Val, the editor and founder, had an idea to make a pdf out of the collection to give to the readers. Please feel free to go to this link and download the collection. It's free, no strings attached, only thanks for all your support.


Norman Thomas Cooper said...


A very frightening experience for you and your family. It's funny how life's events can put everything in perspective and allow us to see what the really important things are. Thanks for sharing your story.


Thanks for giving Ann the platform of your blog to share with us.


Judy Hartman said...

Hi Dawn,
This is such a moving post. As a mom, i can't imagine how frightening that experience must have been.
It's amazing how synchronicity sets in when we are ready to move forward.

Dawn, I just discovered that you had given me the Kreative Blogger award. I'm really touched! I'm sorry, but I have already received that award, and I would rather not select any bloggers to pass it on to, since I have so many favorites.
Thank you so much, Dawn.

Jennie Nash said...

This is such a beautiful story, and beautifully told. I'm going to twitter about it so that everyone will come read this, and remember what the point is...of life, of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

Jennie Nash said...

Dawn, I wanted to email you to thank you for the nomination, but I can't find on your blog how to contact you! Also, this post is beautiful...