“To find the journey’s end in every step of the road...is wisdom.” - Emerson
I wrote my first historical fiction when I was eleven, about 15 handwritten pages that each contained a chapter with a different narrator. All lived around Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, and each witnessed an event attached to the flood that destroyed the town. The sixth-grade teacher who oversaw the writing club was deeply impressed. That story, now lost, represents my first writing. I choose it for my origin because I had never before put so much effort into a piece of writing, or experimented with a narrative in any way, or put written anything I would later remember. Since my first novel (in-progress) is also historical fiction, recollecting my Johnstown flood story also feels like drawing a circle.
It is a circle with several missing pieces and drawn over many years, though. In high school I wrote some poetry and in early college some short stories (hopefully unremembered by anyone, as they were awful), and then I did not write anything for a long time. I never took a creative writing class. Five or six years after graduation I picked at an abortive attempt at a novel for a few months; a couple years after that I labored on an essay that I submitted to a few journals, but I understood too little about both writing and publication to succeed. In the years after that piece, I dabbled with ten-minute plays.
In all these phases, I hoped for an editor to accept my work for publication. I have never expected to make a living with writing – I am a teacher, and happily so – but I wanted validation and an audience. Those desires, in hindsight, missed the point of writing because I valued the goal above the process.
Writing has provided me with a place of escape and control. I resumed writing in October 2019, and when March and the pandemic struck, writing became vital in ways I had not expected. It provided me with an ongoing project when so many aspects of life had ceased, and with time eddying endlessly and case counts swallowing attention and energy, writing presented a solvable puzzle. A sentence must be rearranged, a paragraph shortened; a bit of description must slow the pacing of the dialogue, or a word switched to further shade the phrase’s meaning. A story is unlocked one absorbing step at a time, and entering into this work with all my mind brings a clarity and a freshness that I treasure.
My writing goals have changed. I received the publication I sought: I’ll confess that valuing the process over the prize became a great deal easier with that particular primate wrested from my back. I have stories and poems still looking for homes and currently under review by editors; I hope they find the light of day soon, but beyond my willingness to prep more submissions, that is out of my control. I have 68,000 words of a projected 90,000 words of that novel written, and I want to finish. I anticipate writing the final sentences of The Ghosts on the Glass early in the summer of 2022. I’ll spend the remainder of the summer editing and sending out my first queries to agents. I do not know what will happen, but I will take my shot. Perhaps stars will align and a press will publish my novel; perhaps my search will end a couple years and dozens of rejections later, and I will publish myself. Regardless, the experience has been a rewarding one, and I will have received no less pride and no fewer moments of calm and clearness from my writing.