A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest: 2013 Best Writing Websites (2013)

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Now, July’s going to be a weird month here, as I’m often in Portland at OSCON with my geek husband for part of it and therefore out in the world loose on my own recognizance. So I’m going to throw a twist into things this month: because writing is, at the core, about storytelling, I’m going to turn the conversation toward our real stories. The stories of us. . .as writers.

    How did you first get into writing?

    I got into writing—as so many of us did—as a child. One of the gods of my young world decided I was the writer in the family, and so, by gum, I wrote. The earliest thing I remember writing is a poem about sunrise on a camping trip where, notably, I did not watch the sun rise. I slept in and just wrote about it later. As I recall I was about 9, and that imaginary dawn was grey as a glove, rhymed with dove.

    At 11 or 12 I wrote myself a children’s book, for which I chose only words that would justify the ends of the lines. (I had an interesting grasp on book production.) Surprisingly—or perhaps not so surprisingly—that story was about magical fog. Guess what color the fog was? Why, yes, it was. And it probably also contained doves.

    When I was a teenager, my mother gave me an enormous, upright typewriter with all the keyboard agility of boulders embedded in a mountainside, so my adolescent novels were written at top speed with unbelievable force to a noise that could wake the dead. My mid-twenties novels were written on a computer I won as a computer scholarship from a cash register manufacturer. And, eventually, I met and married my husband, a bona fide computer geek who now keeps me supplied with computers that do not owe their mechanical existence to dead retail technology.

    By now I’ve written novels, short stories, news articles, essays, memoir, sketches and portraits and a bunch of stuff that can’t even be classified, and even a book on children’s place in our technological society (Prentice Hall, 1996), along with a raft of poetry, some of which has been published.

    After I reached a point at which I could arrange my life in order to write for a living, I wrote and edited entire bookshelves of books on things like Gnu open-software debugging and the 1990s Fortran compiler that IBM decided not to finish developing.

    And through it all, I’ve edited professionally tons of other people’s stuff—a lot of nonfiction, but also novels and short stories and experimental works, fiction of all stripes and sizes. (It’s certainly easier than editing my own.)

    There’s only one good reason to make such an issue out of working my entire life in this one particular craft. And it’s not the payscale.

    It’s love.

    Being in love with the words, the sentences, the paragraphs and chapters and volumes and long, luxurious, full books. In love with the twists and turns of storytelling, the ways in which events can be piled up or strung out or paced like a ride on a pogostick to create visceral responses in the reader’s gut.

    In love with how characters, with their carefully selected and contrasted layers, move from one-dimensional to three-dimensional and step right out of the page as they grapple with their own internal landscapes.

    In love with how well-written stories are always magical, always inexplicable, always greater than the sum of their parts.

    In love with language.

    In love with writing. Because, apparently, I’m a writer. . .the writer in my family.

    So think about it today: where did your interest in and love of this craft come from? Why writing, out of all the other wonderful things you could be doing with your time on this planet?

    (I mean—surely, you’ve had more lucrative options, haven’t you?)

    NEXT WEEK: How Many Degrees of Separation Are You from Your Literary Idols?

    AND THE FOLLOWING WEEK: What Does Writing Mean to You?


    The Art and Craft of Fiction:
    A Practitioner’s Manual

    by Victoria Mixon

    “The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”—Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    “Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .demystifies essential aspects of craft while paying homage to the art.”—Millicent Dillon, five time O. Henry Award winner and PEN/Faulkner nominee

    “Teeming with gold. . .makes you love being a writer because you belong to the special club that gets to read this book.”—KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel


    The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
    by Victoria Mixon

    “This book changed my life.”Stu Wakefield, Kindle #1 best-selling author of Body of Water and Memory of Water

    “Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”—Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel

    “As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches. Highly recommended.”—Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering

    “I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”—Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop


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    26 Comments

26 Responses to “How Did You First Get into Writing?”

  1. I first got into writing in junior high (mid 1980s) when I attempted to mimic Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Lord Foul’s Bane” and showed the first chapter to my grandfather. He didn’t like how dark and ominous it was. He asked me, “Why would you write something this depressing?” That taught me that depressing people was a bad thing. I’ve since learned that evoking almost any emotion from a reader is a GOOD THING and I wish I still had that chapter to look back on.

    Since then, I’ve still written dark material and I’ve found a great critique group that is supportive of almost any writing style and content.

    PS: I wish I were going to OSCON this year! I miss that conference a great deal. Enjoy!

  2. I first got into writing when I got jeaous of my best friend, who had started scribbling down her first “kiddie” stories of animal adventures and great mouse detectives. I was jealous; she had such great ideas, and they were a blast to read!

    So…off I trooped to my first late-night writing session, complete with a three-ring-binder and a stack of notebook paper, writing about MY animal heroes and MY secret worlds.

    I was nine.

    I haven’t stopped since.

  3. I don’t know when writing first got into me, but I became aware at quite a young age that I was supposedly disposed to it. Teachers commented that I had an overactive imagination; I was never happier than when in the company of page and pen. Penpals were treated to long and glorious texts, which they may not have appreciated quite as much as I enjoyed producing them.
    Your remark about the typewriter made me smile. My grandfather died and left a skinny portable with no letter T. From ha day my bedroom resounded to furious hunder. By backspacing I overlaid an l on an r, and then I was rattling away – though my oeuvre at the time was mainly science fiction, because it annoyed everybody, and especially my teachers. Especially the A level English literature teacher, who we all quailed before. While other teachers just taught, she evangelised, got inside her subject and made you believe literature was life itself, the single most important invention on the whole of planet Earth.
    At the end of the summer term, in the sixth form, there was a party after the last performance of the school play. My Englit teacher cornered me, wanting to talk about the essay I’d done in the recent exams. I shuddered, wondering what crassness I’d committed. ‘You should write novels,’ she said. And she meant me to take her very seriously.

  4. I wrote and illustrated my first story at age 4. Everything I’ve done since has been a variation on that theme. *grin*

  5. I love the reflexiveness of writing. Writing about anything is writing about writing. It’s like being thrust into another realm, and given the power to do anything you wish as long as you can imagine it.

  6. I’ve always been in love with the written word and have been an avid reader since my sister taught me how to read when I was four. In 6th grade (I was 11), our teacher had us writing short stories. Mine was rather dark–I’d been reading a collection of Poe my parents had–and I received an A+ with extra credit. I was hooked! I had a job, so I sprung for an el cheapo manual typewriter and some extra ribbons and paper, and I’ve been writing ever since.

  7. Victoria said on

    I love you guys!

    So many writers, so much written, so many stories of how this great love we all share began. . .

  8. I have always written stories from as young as I can remember but it got me into trouble and changed my life.
    At school in English I always got excellent marks for my stories but my English teacher told me I should write descriptive pieces in examinations to get higher marks. So at 16 I wrote about the contents of my pocket for my O Level exam and failed. I was devastated. I joined the army (not quite cause and effect) and I was not selected as officer potential because I had failed my English yet I knew I could write.
    I left the army after 6 excellent years to try for university but I was told I couldn’t get in because I had failed English so I arranged to resit the examination. I walked in off the street to a school and sat with the 16 year olds. I had done no preparation but I wrote a story and got an A.
    When I was at university I applied to go into the Royal Navy and I won a bursary to go in as an officer.
    The moral of the story. Don’t listen to your English Teacher… (to be fair she was an excellent teacher)

  9. Jeffrey Russell said on

    I am too new at writing to feel much of a separation from the ‘beginning’ of it. I can say, however, that for the whole of my life I’ve loved stories. Lots and lots of stories. Of all sorts, both fact and fiction. As a boy it was enormously enjoyable to read how Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn got into and out of their predicaments. But so too was reading how Abraham Lincoln came to be President. To me they were both stories, and I loved to read them. I was also a listener, endlessly fascinated by how people talked. The turns of phrase they used (or, as Victoria put it, their ‘words and sentences’). How someone went about telling a story or making a point was just as interesting to me as the story told or point made. Sometimes more so.

    Very late in life by “beginning writer” standards I came across a story that I believed in, but hadn’t yet been told. Inexplicably I decided to write it myself. And then, just like a man who had been raised on a desert island and experienced his first kiss late in life, I fell in love.

    I will be forever jealous of those of you who banged away on ancient typewriters as children. Or traded insights with high school teachers about writers and writing. Who knew the thrill of writing at such young ages while there was so much time ahead for you to enjoy it. To learn about it, and hone the craft of it. You arelucky.

    But I’m lucky now, too – finally. Ain’t love grand?

  10. I fell in love with writing when I read my first books “all by myself” as an elementary school kid. Was it the Amelia Bedelia books or the Berenstein Bears? Maybe the Hardy Boys series?

    I wrote my first poem in 3rd grade, and I still feel that same giggly sensation in my fingertips when I pen my thoughts.

    Creating stories…it pays to be a good liar in this business. :)

  11. I grew up surrounded by writing. My grandmother wrote poetry. My mother wrote humorous essays for the local paper. i was reading my mom’s copy of The Writer by the time I was eight and tagged along to her Writers’ Guild meeting whenever she would let me. The question was never “would I write”, but “what would I write.”

  12. Enjoyed your story – enjoyed everyone’s stories! – and have a good time at the convention. Travel safe!

    I got into writing because:

    1) My mom paid me 50 cents per book review (but the book had to be at least 50 pages. I think what my nieces now call chapter books).

    2) My high school journalism teacher let me out of school any time to report on anything I wanted – as long as I wrote her at least 500 words, and could come back and explain my interview choices and questions. She was tough, too.

    3) My college anthro professor did pretty much the same thing with supervising my fieldwork, but she was even tougher.

    4) I only seem to work with wildly creative, energetic people caught up in crazy causes (and/or programmers/ entrepreneurs), and I tend to be the only one with enough concentration span for consistently writing, spelling, and wielding the basics of grammar. It has kind of evolved from there. And above all I have simply bonded with certain audiences, and keep thinking of more and more ways to reach them. So, that leads to more and more writing and experimenting with different formats.

    The pay scale? Are you kidding me? :) Heck yeah I could be doing more lucrative things, even as a freelance writer. Ie, more business writing and writing for industry publications. But I like my little happy niche.

  13. Lindsey Grant said on

    At your very kind invitation, Victoria, here’s a link to my related blog post: http://blog.lettersandlight.org/post/7546140011

    I am loving this discussion!
    Lindsey

  14. Victoria said on

    Thanks for the link, Lindsey!

    I’m loving it too.

  15. I started writing practically as soon as I er… started writing! I have a couple of old primary school books featuring my early attempts at poetry and story telling. Never let it be said that I let poor spelling, total ignorance of grammar, or punctuation that involved randomly putting dots through what I’d written hold me back!

    Writing was something I did when I was waiting for something, or when I had finished what I was doing in class or had a slow moment at work. Basically, any opportunity I had, I wrote. Mostly songs, poems and first chapters of fairy tale/fantasy stories.

    Then I did a writing degree which killed my writing and gave me a decade of writer’s block. Now, thanks to improvisation, I’m re-discovering my ability to write and utilising the story telling abilities I learnt to help me create plots then and there on-stage. It’s given me the ability to continue beyond first chapters and actually finish stories.

    In short, I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve always wanted to do something I enjoy for a living. I’m hoping that I may be able to combine the two!

  16. well, I started out with mostly poetry…which peaked in awfulness in high school (by that time I had stopped rhyming mostly but oh oh the draaaamaaa). In fact somewhere in my closet there’s still a notebook with some of those poems that I keep meaning to destroy. I live in fear that some well meaning family member will discover the stash and read one at my funeral.

    I didn’t start writing stories/novels until young adulthood, but my love affair with novels began very early and continues.

  17. Well, I was fifteen years of age, I had seen every western movie ever made, beginning with ‘Shane’ at age 3 (still the most influential in my wild west world), read every western novel I could lay my hands on and, in addition, purchased and devoured every reference work on the period.

    I was a walking encyclopedia on the Old West, but nobody I knew cared or wanted to listen to any of the countless stories or facts I had accumulated.

    What to do?

    Use all this knowledge as background for a western novel, in the mold of the Clint Eastwood ‘Dollars’ trilogy of movies that was just then showing in the cinemas.

    That western novel was never finished (and the world is a much better place for that), but I had begun to write (as opposed to the oral stories I had made up for my younger brother in bed at night) and I have never really stopped in the ensuing 45 years.

    And I still haven’t finished a western.

    Maybe not tomorrow, but ‘Yesterday’.

    Thanks, as always, Victoria….

  18. I develop a fondness in writing after I realized that I can better express my feelings through it. I was very shy when I was young and when I became a little older I have difficulty expressing my feelings through words. My girlfriend would ask me to write a letter to her on our special day so that she could read the words I can’t tell her when we are together. I am well now, but I think I am still better in expressing myself through writing.

  19. Roxanne said on

    I was 4 too!!

    I would dictate to the nearest available adult. I guess I was pretty precocious. My teachers would tell my mom about all the big words I’d use and say I should probably become a writer. About fifteen major changes later, that’s what I did. Now I’m a year away from a BA in English and about a month away from finishing my second full manuscript.

  20. I got into writing for something to fill my summers. Without a summer job I was bored. So i picked up a pen and haven’t put it down since.

  21. My cousin got me into writing. I started writing about a girl and her mother who go horseback riding and they get lost, and that’s as far as I got. I think I was 8 or 9. Then I met my best friend who got me into reading. I read just about everything she put into my hands and then some. One day she told me about a dream she had and we wrote a whole book about it! That was the only book I ever finished for years. After that we tried to revise it but we didn’t get very far before we got bored with it and now it is destined to sit in my room for eternity. I might pull it out every now and then. Well we both kept writing but she got frustrated with never being able to finish anything so she stopped writing. I could never finish anything either but I just enjoyed writing about all my imaginary adventures. Between then and a few years I was more interested in reading than writing but then I ran out of books that interested me. Every now and then I would find one in the book store but for the most part every book I looked at just wasn’t about anything that interested me. So I decided that the only solution was to write my own books. Just recently I finished my first book since the one I wrote with my friend. I’d never meant to finish it. I just started writing it because I wanted to write something similar to a show I was interested in at the time. I got so far with it that I just wanted to know what happened so I just kept writing it. It wasn’t easy but my sister was reading it as I wrote it and I wanted to write it for her. So now all that is left is to type it up and print it out and send it to all my friends to read. I don’t think I will ever get it published but who knows? I’m always looking for inspiration to write because while I know what I wan’t to write about I just don’t know what is suppose to happen in my story to get to where I want to be. Oddly enough I find that when I have tones of work to do all I wan’t to do is write but when I have all the time in the world I don’t know what to write about. So now I am moving on to my next project. Now that I have finished a book on my own maybe I can do it again! (now where is that sister of mine)

  22. Early reader + paper + pencil = Writer. By the time I was eight years old I had recycled ditto paper to write and illustrate my first picture book series. My superhero cat was kind enough to lie still while I illustrated her flying over the neighborhood saving my friends from villainous dogs. Her adventures were lovingly “published” in a first run limited #2 pencil edition and shared among family members who were kind enough not to answer the faded blue multiple-choice questions on the backside of every page.

  23. Fun topic. I started “story-making” at age 4, but kept it all in my head. In 9th grade, I increased my writing skills drastically, by writing six notes a day to my best friend. Most were at least a double-sided page, and most were stories about our teachers’ and classmates’ alternate lives as witches, vampires, and other unreal things. I studied journalism in college, briefly considered a career in advertising and dabbled in fiction in my spare time; recently re-inspired, by a friend, and gave NaNoWriMo a shot. Then took a shot at fan-fiction, and now, am writing my first real book that I will finish, let people read, and eventually query.

  24. itsmekikid said on

    Daydreaming is my only natural talent. That’s a lie. I can also be an excellent observer. But mostly, I daydream.

    When my mind wanders (which is always), I come up with product ideas, solutions to issues, and stories. Over the past year or so, I decided to look into what it might take to turn my product ideas into products. Too much, I may never be ready to tackle that one. The timing is off anyway, everybody’s broke right now.

    Well, if not product ideas, then– and here I am. Scared shortless and taking baby steps, but I’m here.

  25. [...] doesn’t mean the conversation won’t go on. We’ve been talking this month about How You First Got into Writing and How Many Degrees of Separation You Are from Your Literary [...]

  26. Samantha M said on

    I love your blog. I first got into writing when I got jeaous of my best friend, who had started scribbling down her first “kiddie” stories of animal adventures and great mouse detectives. I was jealous; she had such great ideas, and they were a blast to read!



Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, published through Abbott Press, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a first chapter short story that agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

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