So You Think You’re a Writer?
I am a writer. Just saying it makes me so happy.
It took me years to spit that out without feeling pretentious. I used to think, ‘Hey, who are you kidding? Stephen King is a writer. Nora Roberts is a writer.’ Now I work part time in our local library because it’s fun to sit in a building filled with books, talking with people who love books. My candy store.
And guess which books get requested ALL THE TIME? Yup, good old Nora and Stephen; I was right about that at least.
So, when asked what I do, I used to mention my current day job (Oilfield Medic, Mother, Banker, Human Resources Manager, Dental Office Assistant, Book Store Clerk, Medical Office Administrator, Potato Peeler at a Fish and Chip Shop – yeah, I know, lofty, huh? I was fired, btw – substandard potato peeling apparently …. All grist for the mill.
If I felt especially brave that day, I’d mumble “I also write” in my little voice, feeling as if I were sneaking into the party as an uninvited guest. More often than not ….
The conversation would grind to a halt, my companion’s face taking on one of four expressions:
- Expression One – Panic. ‘Oh God–she thinks she’s a writer. Get me out ‘a here, quick.’
- Expression Two – Boredom. ‘Oh God—a bookie. Get me out ‘a here quick.’
- Expression Three – Pity. The worst one, by far. I wanted to get out of there.
- Expression Four – Eyes light up. “Me too,” they would gush, and I’d found a fellow lover of writing. This is the response I loved the best. Nobody understands what drives a writer to write better than another writer. Our tribe is scattered, but it is strong.
So I wrote, attended endless conferences, joined writers groups, and wrote horrendous novels with characters named Bambi and Cookie – I cringe just recalling them. I recently found a copy of one of my old manuscripts with the paper clip rusted to the pages and smiled at it, and sent a virtual hug back to my younger self. I'd tried so hard ….
Practice, practice, practice …
Tim Wynn Jones invited me to submit work to him (He was an acquiring editor at that time and I was taking a class from him at the University of Ottawa.) Tim Wynn Jones – the $50,000.00 Seal First Novel Award winner, Arthur Ellis Award winner, Edgar Award winner!? Go to his site. He's awesome! The awards go on and on. Wow. But I didn’t.
Jo Beverley told me my work was ready to submit to a publisher (We were in a writers critique group together.) Jo Beverley – Regency writer extraordinaire!? She has a gazillion books out now, right? Wow. But I didn’t.
I kept on keeping on, and wrote and tossed, wrote and slashed and burned, wrote and wrote and wrote.
Then I sold my first short story to a big magazine.
It was a short mystery. It earned me SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!! I held that check and almost cried, not for the seven hundred dollars, which we so badly needed at the time, but for the confirmation that yes, I was a writer. Someone out there, an acquiring editor, had paid me money, had said with this check that I was a writer.
I sold more short stories. I spent time with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch in Oregon at a Master Class and learned tons from them. I did blue pencils with Donald Maass (my dream New York agent) and Anne Perry (talented and successful mystery writer) – so generous with their knowledge. I had my picture taken with Joy Fielding (LOL – I know it pure fan fun, but I love that picture. I’m looking at it now.) I had dinner with John Saul and learned he’s a sweet man who is more scared of his horror novels than I am. I listen to Stephen King read his On Writing audible book once a year (We’re best friends, you know … ) I could go on and on.
I immersed myself in the writing life. I found and attended conferences, classes, workshops, writing groups, anything where I could learn. I called myself a writer – this time with a little more force. You could almost hear me now.
I submitted to book publishers, getting farther and farther along in the process each time, but ultimately fell short of actual acceptance and publication. I tossed those books into my drawer because Tim Wynn Jones had told me once to consider it my spare parts department. Tim said, “Be like that neighbor no one wants living next door to them, you know the one. The one whose backyard is piled high with ‘I might need this some day' car parts – spare fenders, bumpers, windshields, door handles, bucket seats…”
Trust me, my backyard is TEAMING with writerly spare parts …
Turns out Tim was right. I'm now putting together a non-fiction book about how I honed my writing skills with short stories to share one day. At best it might help people just starting out on their writerly journey, at worst, people can read the stories, laugh and point. Either way, it'll be entertaining as hell.
And I gave back. Anything I learned, I shared, happy to help anyone along their journey, because it is a journey. People met at my house twice a month to network, share resources, share and critic work, commiserate, applaud, whatever was needed. I called myself a writer without hesitation or embarrassment.
I worked lots of jobs, trying different things out, thinking I need to know how it feels to work at a dental office (Not good – I wanted to scoop the crying children and escape from the building), in a bookstore (Fun – it is all about the books, but discouraging to learn just how short a time a book is allowed to occupy shelf space at your local bookstore when your name isn’t James Patterson.), in a medical clinic (Good. The only drawback – I knew patient’s conditions and medical history better than I knew their names. It’s all about the story, isn’t it?)
So now, I’m about to launch my first series on Amazon.
No Regrets. That's the title of the first books of the series. You should read it – it's awesome! LOL. Am I proud Momma, or what?