the beginning

I’ve always been a writer. From the moment I first wrapped my little fingers around a pencil, I’ve been scribbling thoughts and ideas. But I haven’t always written fiction. In fact, if you told me five years ago that I would write a novel (much less two), I would’ve smiled politely while thinking, Okay, strange person.

I tried writing fiction when I was a kid. It wasn’t very good. I was smart enough to realize that. And when you grow up in a competitive family, you either get good at whatever it is you attempt or you find something you are good at. I didn’t know how to get better. And the one writing workshop I went to actually made it harder for me to write.

I figured it just wasn’t for me. So at the age of 10, I dumped fiction and focused on poetry. Poetry was good to me. People liked my poetry. It came easily, effortlessly.

And then, as with all great personal stories, things happened. In 2008, I found myself in a period of my life when I wasn’t sure who I was or what career goal I should be pursuing. And writing was calling me back.

At the same time, I was reading a lot. Because, well, I wasn’t working toward anything, so I had the time. I kept thinking about Jane Austen, realizing I should know more about her life than I did.

One particular day, I found myself wandering around the library, browsing the shelves for something new. As I turned around, a book at the bottom of the shelf caught me eye. Just Jane whispered the spine.

Curious, I slipped it out from the other books. Could it be…?

It was. Penned by Nancy Moser, it was a fictional account of the life of Jane Austen. I took it home and drank in each page. Everything about this interpretation of Jane resonated with me – the way she described her characters, the way she couldn’t wait to escape big social gatherings so she could return to the friends who existed only in her mind.

It’s the characters. The thought smacked me in the face. They’re why I read books. Could they be how I actually write a book?

So I tried it. Why not? I had nothing to lose. I created a character; I gave her a personality, ideas, values. Based on those, I gave her a career. I gave her family. And then I said, “Based on her personality, what can I do to completely shake up her world?”

So I did it.

I wasn’t writing with the goal of publication. I didn’t really have any plans for the book at all. (It wasn’t until three years later that I thought maybe, just maybe, I could actually be a novelist.) I was writing for me, just to see if I could.

I didn’t draw connecting bubbles to chart out the action like that kids’ writing workshop said I should. I didn’t follow the 1-2-3s or the A-B-Cs of plotting. I created a character. And everything flowed from her.

I’m not claiming my book is incredible. I still have a lot to learn, and I like that. I hope I never feel like I’ve reached the point where I’ve got it all figured out.

But Just Jane got me started. It took me from believing I couldn’t write fiction to writing two novels, with more on the way. It opened me up to a whole world of story that was locked away in my soul.

It’s funny, how the moments that change our entire lives often feel so inconsequential at the time. I had no idea finding that book would change who I was. But it started this journey for me.

What about you? What journey are you on and what caused you to take the first step?




  1. Beth Pensinger
    Sep 25, 2012 @ 18:12:51

    I loved reading about what got you started!


    • halee
      Sep 25, 2012 @ 22:31:48

      Thanks, Beth! When we were talking about it, I realized I had never written about where it all began for me. And obviously that’s a must. 😉


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