S. L. Duncan writes young adult novels inspired by his travels around the world and the characters met along the way. He's interested in finding those unique connections between stories and places, people and circumstance. When he's not writing, S. L. Duncan plays guitar and soccer, loves to cook, and occasionally practices law. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and son. Represented by John Rudolph, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
Friday, February 28, 2014
The first time I recognized the sound of my own voice.
by S. L. Duncan
Law school sucked. I just want to go on record with that. The actual school bits, that is; the drinking-like-a-lawyer bit with your friends was okay, I guess. But statutes? Precedent? Come on. Stare Decisis? That ain’t a planet in the Degobah System.
Point is, boring.
Not just boring, but sterile.
The constant study of black letter law and the briefing of cases is so void of any creativity, that should an artistic spark exist inside you, either one of two things will happen: school will snuff it out, or school will compress it so tightly, so compactly in its endeavor to make the brain produce only analytical, legal thought, that at some point the atom will split. We’re talking megatons, here.
Since this article isn’t happening on A Happy Divorce Blog, you can probably figure where I fell on that spectrum.
So, I tried writing. In a way, it was a bit weird. I mean, I was going to be a lawyer. Why bother, right? I had absolutely no end game. No ambition to be published. Authors were these elite beings, sitting atop their Literary Mt. Olympus, and I certainly wasn’t one of them.
But this one, stupid little idea wouldn’t go away.
It was sometime around finals. I remember thinking there were much better ways to spend my time. Nose to the grindstone, that sort of thing. Instead, I cranked out fifty pages of a story. It was the beginning of something decent, I thought. Something with potential. I wanted to carry on with it, but there was this voice in my head that told me to show it to someone.
Ever had stage fright? That is what letting someone read my stuff feels like. Even today. Doing it for the first time feels like stage fright while standing on the edge of the cliff. I could use a few more clichés, but I think you get it.
I gave the fifty pages to a friend of mine from Scotland. Pete was his name. He was a reader of things other than textbooks and at the time, people like that were thin on the ground in my circle. And the book was of a genre he liked, so I figured he was the right guy.
A week passed after giving him the pages. We’d met at the pub a couple of times, with not a mention of the pages. We’d talk football. Girls. Whatever. But not the fifty pages. Anything but that.
Another week went by and then another. So I bring it up.
Something to know about Pete is, at the three beer mark, any chance of his internal filter functioning drops to zero percent. His mouth, often hilariously, turns into a geyser of no-remorse wit. Beware of tongue.
And so, as I probably should have expected, Pete takes a sip of his Guinness and informs me of the “shiteness” of what I’ve written. He tears it apart. Bit by bit. Page by page. And by the end of his steady undoing of my writerly ambitions – two beers later, mind – I’d decided that perhaps writing isn’t for me.
I set the pages aside for nearly a year. Totally forgot about them until after I got back from a semester in Durham, England. I was cleaning off my desk and there they were, shoved under a stack of twenty pound case books. The red marks stuck jumped off the page and after a minute, I was reading.
The thing I realized almost instantly was that Pete was right. About everything. It was like seeing a magic trick explained. Suddenly, I got it. The spark understood, too.
And then, among the stacked books and case briefs on my desk, I was writing again. In August, you can buy this book in most bookstores.
Now, there are two things that I had going for me. The obvious one is the Scotsman. Your Scotsman can be anyone that isn’t scared to tell you straight or hurt you. Because sometimes the truth hurts. I’m on the fence about this, but I’m also going to say that they should also drink a heavy amount of Guinness. I’ll leave that to your discretion.
The second thing is a little more difficult to recognize. And it is the crux of all that lay ahead in your ambition. I think, ultimately, this is where the line begins to be drawn in relation to those who will be published and those who will not. It speaks to that same thing that Ira Glass so famously said about taste. The second thing is that inner voice that spoke up at the end of fifty pages that said, “Before you carry on, you need to show this to someone.”
Subconsciously, I knew those pages were bad. I knew they weren’t working. I just hadn’t learned how to recognize the sound of my own voice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what being a writer is all about.