Path to Writing

Looking back, I find it completely hilarious that I never saw writing coming. It has been sneaking up on me for years, and in my typical unobservant fashion, I had no idea. Completely, 100% oblivious.

Growing up, I was absolutely a reader. I devoured scads of books in record time. Late into the night, my parents would often find me on my bedroom floor with a box of Club crackers, a package of pepperoni, and my nose in a book. I couldn’t stop, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to. I read through meals, and periodically in the car on longer road trips, though it made me nauseous to do so.

Specifically, I was a delighted reader of fantasy. I was a proud member of the blessed generation that was the same age as Harry with each book release. Hermione was my homegirl...she understood me. At every opportunity, I hungered to be whisked away to another world, more magnificent and adventurous than my own.

I wept and rejoiced with my fictional friends, but never really thought of creating fictional stories myself. There was a brief period where I snuck my parents’ typewriter into my room and made up some two-page stories. The feel and sound of the keys was divine, but I struggled to come up with content. Frequently, I ended up with an unfinished and unsatisfying tale about an encounter with a cute boy at summer camp.

My first journal entry is dated October 12, 1998, which puts me around 10 years old. The diary itself is about 4”x4”, glossy white covered with rainbow colored hearts, and capped with a little gold lock and release button. I handle it with fondness even now, though the content is absurd. And I always hated the word ‘diary’ -- it was too frilly for my purposes. I took journaling very seriously. Which is pretty ironic, considering the rainbow hearts.

I have upwards of 20 journals spanning 1998-2016. Though the habit has died out a bit, writing has never ceased to be a cathartic and necessary part of my life. The format and content have gone through countless iterations: Xanga poems about middle school crushes; a blog about the challenges of being 15; notebooks full of song lyrics; another blog about restaurant and recipe critiques; thoughts on my experiences, fears, pain, joy, dating life, trauma, disappointments, and spirituality.

But all of this was happening in patches of spare time, while I focused on the “really important stuff.” I got a bachelor’s degree in music after studying to be a high school choir teacher for 3.25 years…a terrible, hilariously ill-suited career choice. Graduating with honors, finding Mr. Right, and figuring out how to pay my bills were my absolute top priorities.

Then came depression, hopelessness, and a bittersweet end-of-the-rope experience that led me to Jesus. I won’t tell that story today. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to do it justice when I do.

Even then, armed with a better foundation for my identity and purpose, I flailed when it came to career direction. In the five year period following my undergrad studies, I held the following positions, most of them full-time:

  • Assistant Manager at a rock climbing gym
  • Sales Specialist at Apple
  • Executive Assistant to the General Director at an opera company
  • Admission Counselor at my alma mater
  • Director of Operations at a non-denominational church
  • Search Associate for an executive search and strategic planning consultant company

From 2014-2016, I had four separate careers. When I say that I “flailed” professionally, I am not exaggerating. I had no idea what I was meant to do with myself. I have always excelled in the broad base of skills one needs to succeed in the 9-5 world. My performance reviews were always sky high, yet I felt like a prisoner every time I tried to make that sort of traditional career “fit”. I took every career and personality assessment on the market, and time and time again, the professional involved would say, “Hannah, you just won’t be content until you work for yourself, or have a significant amount of freedom.”

“That’s super!” said Hannah at 23. “But I have bills to pay. So I’m keeping my 9-5 in the nonprofit sector because I can get behind the cause. I’m working toward something meaningful. I’ll be just fine.”

I was never fine. I lied to myself over and over again, and was bored out of my mind. I cried in the bathroom at work and wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just suck it up and do my job like everyone else seemed to be doing?

I got engaged to my best friend and the best man I know in December 2014. I made a transition to working for the church, and he was also pursuing work in full-time ministry. I was elated. We were on an energizing, joyful path, and I couldn’t be happier.

That season leading up to our engagement was the closest I had ever come to professional contentment. When I was working for the church, I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule, I was treated as an equal even with my lack of experience, and I was surrounded by wonderful people. True to God’s nature, though, he had better plans. So havoc wrecked my world for the next 18 months.

In the time leading up to and following our wedding and honeymoon in September 2015, all hell broke loose. I am not exaggerating. One church leader called it “the perfect storm of awful communication, timing, and circumstances,” among other things. We have many colorful names for that particular season of life.

I lost my roommate and was having anxiety attacks. As a result, I moved once, and then again after six weeks. An important relationship in my life turned destructive, and I endured months of manipulation and psychological abuse. As a result, I was later diagnosed with complex PTSD. With no alternative employment, I left my job at the church, and Andrew left seminary to pursue his original line of work in the business world. We had no income. I quickly took on a job to pay the bills, but my PTSD symptoms made it impossible for me to continue on in that position. It just wasn’t the right fit, and I wasn’t ready to work. Full of shame and self-defeat, I resigned after four months. Andrew’s job search continued for an additional four months.

Needless to say, it was an exhausting season. There was a lot of crying, and a lot of Netflix. And fortunately, there was a lot of support and encouragement from our wonderful family and friends. Perhaps most fortunately, our marriage survived the madness. We joked often about writing a marriage book years from now, based on the absurdity of our first year and what we learned from it. Perhaps we’ll do that, someday.

In addition to vegging and binging our favorite TV shows, there was also a lot of reading in that season. The local library was suddenly a paradise of entertainment as a household with no income. I think I read the entire Dresden Files series in something like four weeks. We read the existing Way of Kings books, and many, many others.

On September 2, 2016, we sat on a picnic blanket in Lafayette Square watching one of the annual Gateway Cup cycling races. (Bless you St. Louis, and your abundant, free events!) It was a beautiful evening, and we were having a lovely date night. Andrew was quiet, as he often is, and then mused, “What would you write about if you could write a fantasy story? What would your magic look like?”  

It would be dramatic and wonderful if my response had been “Eureka! That’s it!”, but it really was more of a slow realization. A revelation that became more exposed by the millimeter, melting warmth and light over my life like a sunrise.

Our conversation continued for the rest of the evening, considering possible systems of magic, character backgrounds, possible underlying themes. And the conversation hasn’t really stopped since.

I’ve never been so thoroughly and pervasively eager to make something a reality. I bought a notebook 3 days after our date, and went to the library more times in those first few months than in the previous 5 years combined. As I always have, I devoured books on writing speculative fiction, and a number of prominent books in the field of fantasy and science fiction. I created my first system of magic for my first project, axed that system, and replaced it with a better one.

I spent 3 months brainstorming, researching, developing characters, and outlining plot. Then I wrote my First 350 Words. The project continued to grow into something surprising and wonderful, and it was a delight to wake up and make a story unfold every day. I finished my first draft of my first book on March 15, about 6 months after that first lightbulb moment. Subsequent (and more marketable) projects have developed since, which I continue to pursue daily, and I love it.

Not to say that it isn’t daunting. It’s daunting as hell. Initially, the writing process was literally just thousands and thousands of questions:

Who is my heroine? How old is she? What does she look like? What are her relationships like? How does she view herself?

Well, that depends…

Where does she live? What is her culture’s world view? What is the landscape like? What resources do they have? How does that affect trade? Is her region part of a larger world? Where is this world? Does it follow the rules of Earth?

What does magic do in this world? What can it do? What can it not do? How is it limited? What happens if you try to use it the wrong way? What fuels it? What is its origin? Has it existed in time before this story? Who can use it? How do they learn to use it? How do non-magical people respond to it?

And on, and on, and on, and on, and on it goes.

So yes, it’s daunting. And normally the lazy person in me would throw up her hands and say “Ugh, whatever! I’m taking a nap.” But I can’t get enough of the writing process. It feels as if the words are a part of my flesh… a subconscious biological process like breathing, and my body doesn’t consider stopping.

Thanks to these moments along my journey, I can say that I’m here today. I’m an author; I’m a writer. I haven’t been published, but I thrive on writing. I embrace the thrilling opportunity to craft a reader’s experience through fictional stories. I hope to have the opportunity to share those stories with you someday.

Do something you love today, friends. And whatever that may be, embrace the experience as the extraordinary gift that it is.