My training is in the theater as an actor and director.
One year, during rehearsals for a play, I began a short relationship with the only man in the play, an inexperienced but charming actor. He fancied himself a writer and scribbled stream of consciousness into a notebook, long and wordy, signifying nothing. But he was brilliant to me. I encouraged him to write. I told him he could be a voice for our generation, even as I remembered my own younger ambitions, my own dreams to be a writer.
But I squelched those thoughts. I went to the day job. I read other people’s work, long into the night. I bought the boyfriend an expensive chair for his desk at Christmas, because he was the writer, not me. We broke up, of course. There was not enough room in his life for both his ego and me.
I met a man and fell in love. I frequented a neighborhood coffee shop during those heady days of our engagement; my new diamond a novelty on my finger that it sparkled in every slant of light.
Each morning before my day job I stopped for my double latte and bran muffin and each morning there was a man at the front table near the window, on a platform of sorts, like a small stage, writing on his laptop.
Instinct told me he was a writer and it gave me a rush of envy each time I passed him. I wondered what gave him the courage or the ego to believe he had something that mattered to say? I assumed he must have great talent and imagined a whole life for him, complete with literary awards and a crusty New York agent, infamous editor at Random House, and speaking engagements at writing conferences. I sighed each time I passed him, exiting the shop that smelled of coffee and cinnamon, into the damp spring air where the daffodils bent under rain, and slid into my car to wind my way through traffic to my day job.
Some time later, perhaps a month or two, a man walked into the coffee shop on crutches and when I looked down to see why, I saw his right leg had been amputated just above the knee. But it was his face that that gave me a jolt of something between pain and alarm and recognition. It was the face of a person adjusting to a new reality. It was a face of someone frozen in another time. I recognized it because my own mother had the same look the first year after her spinal cord injury from a car accident that left her paralyzed from just below the chest down.
I was deeply moved by this stranger’s face, and thinking of my mother and her brave struggles, an idea for a play came to me: a writer during his first year after a spinal cord injury.
I married and took a six-month period away from the day job. I sat at the desk of our newly combined home and put pen to paper. I saw the man’s face during every word I wrote. It took a year, but at the end of that time, I had a full-length script. I wasn’t sure what I thought about it then; I didn’t think of myself as a writer yet. I thought of myself as a theatre actor and director dabbling in playwriting. I sent it off to a local playwriting contest anyway. It won first prize.
My first real piece and I’d won a prize. Now, there were many flaws in the script, which were apparent when I saw it produced. But it taught me a lot about story structure and character and plot. It also whispered to me that I was a novelist, not a playwright.
I didn’t write again in a committed way for another five years.
I had a baby. I went back to my day job. I hated my life. I hated leaving my baby with a nanny that took half of what I made. I resented my husband. There was something like an itch or a twitch, or maybe an ache, inside me, a reminder that something was terribly missing, like the ghost pain described by those who’ve lost a limb.
I was given another promotion at my day job and a corner office. We bought a bigger house. I became pregnant with my second daughter. All to fill this void, and still I was unhappy. I knew what I needed, but I was afraid.
However, my unhappiness was bigger than my terror.
Where all else had failed, my urge to create was bigger than the doubt and fear and excuses; it was the impetus for change. After my maternity leave was over, I did something unusual, something bold. I quit the day job. We sold our house and moved to a small home in a less expensive community. And I once again put pen to paper. The result was my debut novel, Riversong. Recently it was the #1 Nook Book.
I’ve finished the edits on my second novel. It is the finest work I’ve done, better than I ever imagined I could do. I have the first draft of a third novel almost finished. I write a blog and guest blog on many others. I am a writer. And I am at peace, finally.
I can’t help but wonder where I’d be if I’d picked up my pen earlier?
Or, given myself permission and encouragement I gave to the boyfriend.
Or, believed in myself like I did the man with the laptop at the coffee shop?
What if I’d imagined and invented a life for myself that included Random House and an agent and editor and literary awards? But I cannot find those missing years. I can only look ahead and dream and work, with the idea of the life I want firmly cemented in my mind.
So, to you I say this.
Buy yourself a chair or a laptop or a notebook. Do it at home or in the coffee shop, in the early mornings or the late hours, during the spaces in between your supposed real life. Give yourself permission. Don’t worry if you have talent or not. If the desire is there, if the ambition lies within like a dormant illness or a forgotten love, do it.
This is US Author, Tess Hardwick’s second guest post on Women Writers, Women Books. Her first was on Genre Discrimination, a query which made us do a double take, and then excitedly accept.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Tess Hardwick is a novelist and playwright. She has a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California.
Tess began her first novel, Riversong while her second daughter was eight months old, writing during naptimes and weekends. Riversong was released in April 2011 by Booktrope, a Seattle publisher. Like the main character in Riversong, Tess is from a small town in Southern Oregon and currently lives and writes in the state of Washington.
She was an active member of the theatre community in Seattle as an actor and director during the late nineties. Her first full-length play, My Lady’s Hand, won the 2001 first place prize for new work at the Burien Theatre. Tess is busy working on her second novel, an historical fiction set in 1930’s Alabama, based on a short story of her great-great grandmother’s.