I wrote the first words of my soon-to-be-published memoir, Bound to Love, twenty-three years ago, while recovering from being hit by a huge falling tree branch–a life-threatening accident. Getting struck broke open what had been frozen inside for twenty-five years: my internal response to cruel comments made by a college creative writing professor in 1963. I put my pen down.
In October, 1992 I could no longer deny the call. I wrote a letter first, to an abusive night shift nurse in the Sacred Heart Hospital recovery room. I wrote and re-wrote that letter before sending it to make sure it clearly depicted my experience of her bedside manner. It was my first time writing on the computer, and I discovered the joys of cut and paste. Then I wrote the first twenty pages of the memoir—and stalled. I needed to learn the craft of writing.
In December 1997, I discovered an online workshop called WriteLab, out of Pennsylvania State University. Twenty-six exercises were offered on all aspects of creative writing: point of view, tense, characterization, scene and sequel, and so on. I posted my attempts for critique. The exercises required either a 300 or 500 word submission. If they ran over the noted word limit, they would not be critiqued. I completed all the exercises, and I learned the first powerful lesson of writing: how to cut my work, honing it again and again. Although WriteLab is no longer active, I consider it a master class–it gave me a solid foundation for storytelling.
I joined a critique group. The first one had a leader, but soon after I became a member of a peer group, and remained with them for over ten years. I only left because I moved to a different state. In 2001, on the advice and encouragement of Robert Hill Long—who taught creative writing at the University of Oregon—I applied to MFA programs, and was accepted by Antioch University. I ended up fulfilling a dual concentration in both fiction and creative non-fiction, and during that two-and-a-half years, wrote a huge chunk of Bound to Love.
Recently, sorting through old papers, I found the 1963 story that had incited my professor’s nasty side. Of course, it had problems and was not a successful story. But in rereading it, I saw the bones of a writer who loved wordsmithing, and worked with delicacy to find just the right rhythm and flavor. I no longer remember the name of the professor, but if he could be found, I would surely take him to task for not encouraging his student. I still wonder what about my story elicited such vitriolic comments.