When I was a little girl, my family took a lot of road trips all around the United States. We’d leave very early in the morning so my brother and I would sleep for a few hours, and then we’d drive on across the highways of America.
On most of those drives, I read book after book, using the uninterrupted time to devour stories one after the other. But sometimes, I would stare out the window at the landscape passing by. For my young mind, the world felt vast out there, and in that vastness, I felt small, a bit lost. So I would latch on to what I could see that traveled with us: the power lines that ran beside the road.
I followed those lines as far as I could as they dipped into gullies and curved around boulders. Sometimes, they would branch off, and I’d let my eyes travel their black trajectories to farm houses against mountains or to small towns whose smoke stacks I could just see in the distance.
As I journeyed with the electricity along the tunnels between poles, I told myself stories about the lines themselves, what it felt like to carry the energy of that town or that family from place to place, and about the homes and villages that were reached by these lines. I imagined heartbreaks and joyful shouts, quiet dinners at a table like our own, and raucous parties with fancy outfits.
These power lines were the first writing prompts I ever knew.
In time, I would attend school for English and then get a graduate degree in Literature, defaulting to my love of reading and putting aside my storytelling escapades. But then, one of my professors in that Literature program told me that I had the capacity to write and write well, that I had a voice that was readable and engaging, that maybe I should pursue writing.
I stood in the hallway outside his office on that spring afternoon, and I felt something shine to light inside me again. It was the impulse that had led me to the stories along those lines all those years back. It was the push that had urged me to take this professor’s writing class even though I had a M.A. exam on books to prep for. It was the call that beckoned in every folk song story I listened to on Friday afternoons when I cleaned my apartment on the 18th floor overlooking the city of Cleveland.
So I carried his wisdom into the only way I knew to be a writer – more school. I got an MFA in Creative Writing, and then I began to teach at community colleges all over the country. I spent a few years loving that work and trying to write in the spaces between. I’d sit at my office window of my townhouse and watch my neighbors with their children, and I’d wonder if this journey was going to take me beyond that view.
Then, it did. The long hours. The endless meetings. The towering stacks of composition papers. All of these things were stifling that journeying writer’s spirit in me. So I quit. Walked away from all I’d ever wanted for a career and began the path to being a full-time writer.
That path has been arduous and round about, involving everything from tutoring students online to writing social media copy for a portable toilet company. But now, 8 years later, I am a full-time writer. I make most of my living as an editor, so someone finally pays me to read all those books – there my creativity gets to do the work of elevating someone else’s ideas, and I love it.
But of course, the work I love most is my own writing. I’m seven books into a career, and I have no intention of stopping.
The journey to this place where I sit by a fire and write most mornings has been a winding one through gullies and around boulders. It’s involved a lot of branches that went to great places but not places I could stay. But the throughline has been steady – following the stories, the electricity of my life.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the United States with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, three rabbits, and thirty-six chickens. She writes regularly at Andilit.com, and her newest book is Love Letters to Writers.