Becoming a Real Writer

Thought for the week:  Dream bigger, what do you have to lose?

Like many of you, I have been thinking about writing a blog for a long time.  Thinking about writing anything and not doing it is pointless because your ideas only become something when you put them down on paper or onto a computer screen and even then, if you never share the document with anyone else, you still have not accomplished anything.   If you share your writing with at least one other person, you can then say, “I wrote this and someone read it.”  Even better, “I wrote this and someone liked it.”  Best, “I wrote this and someone published it.”

I have dreamed of being a writer all of my life, but only recently have I dared call myself by that noble title.  Why?  I began writing in childhood, making greeting cards and filling journals with poetry while sitting in my bedroom closet.  At ten I did not know anything about poetry except that I needed to write my thoughts down on a page in an obscure way, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not, sometimes comprehensible to others, sometimes not.  I read one of my poems to my Mother once.  She said it was depressing.  It was my first official critique.

In college, I wrote short stories and read them in front of my classes.  It was mortifying.  Sometimes my professors felt the stories were publishable.  Therefore, I did the logical thing, stuck them in a drawer, and never showed them to anyone again.  The thought of having my writing out there, my soul bared, terrified me.  I switched majors knowing that remaining an English major was the path to unemployment, until one of my writing professors pulled me aside and said, “Why aren’t you writing?  This is what you are meant to do.”  So struck by her confidence in me, something I surely never possessed, I stuck it out and graduated with a BA in English from the University of Rhode Island.

Beginning the very day of graduation, I fielded questions such as “What are going do, teach?”

“No, I answered, I am going to be a writer.”   That response brought scoffs at best and at worst; long diatribes on how most writers never see their work published.

My father, a Professor at the University, retired the year that I graduated, so we were invitees to a special reception where all of the important staff and graduates mixed and mingled, including the Valedictorian of my class, whom I had a crush on and the guest speaker, Kurt Vonnegut.

I remember standing under the tent in the buffet line next to Kurt Vonnegut straining to think of something brilliant to say.  We both stepped sideways pausing to spoon mayonnaise infused salads and cold cuts onto our plates.  He was so close; I could have touched him.  Before we reached the end of the table, he stopped and looked down at me.  I am five foot nine, but I suddenly felt like a small child.  I looked up at this famous writer, a towering oak, this man who was an expert at his craft and profoundly said, “Hi,” and then looked sharply at my potato salad.

How many chances do you think one person gets in life?  Can you walk away from your destiny and not expect it to shadow your steps for the rest of your days?

After college, unable to find work as writer that paid enough to keep me from needing a second job, I worked as a server, a bartender, a housecleaner and began writing my first novel.  I think I still have it somewhere in a box, in the attic, a mass of scribbled notebook pages and notes on cocktail napkins.  The most idiotic thoughts seem profound jotted down onto a cocktail napkin.  If I remember correctly it was typical of most first novels, far too autobiographical, overly emotive and missing a so what?

I quickly tired of serving people food and cleaning toilets and found a job in the business world where competent writing ability is valued-sometimes.  I planned to keep writing creatively on the side.  The problem with having a real job, if you are doing it right, is that it leaves you with very little energy on the side.  However, I fulfilled other dreams of mine, traveled all over the United States and overcame my fears of public speaking and cocktail parties; in Sales and Marketing you do or die.

The great thing about a real job is it gives you a real life and real things to write about when you finally stop daydreaming and decide that you will write that first novel.  I married a brilliant man, had two wonderful children, left my career, wrote freelance (emphasis on the free part) for two years, lived in Italy for three years and finally got serious about writing.  I have one novel written, although I cannot seem to stop changing it and a second more than half-written and several ideas and chapters for others.  I am now utilizing my business background to help me navigate the business of publishing, which is no easy task, especially since the industry is elastic.

After coming out of the “writing closet”, I have discovered something astounding: many people write or aspire to and never tell a soul.  For the longest time, only my closest friends knew about my writing.  We ‘want to be’ writers apologize and say, “Well, I’m not a real writer.”

What is a real writer?  Today anyone can self publish.  Anyone can write a blog.  Does being a real writer still mean publication by one of the big New York publishing houses?  Ultimately, this remains the goal of many writers, including myself.  Despite the fact that e publishing is all the rage, I still have my heart set on posing for a photo in front of a bookstore window displaying my published novel.  I also frequent libraries and prefer to hold an actual book in my hands when I read it, blissfully turning paper pages.  I realize this makes me a Techno Dino and I may have to revise my goals.  Flexibility is key in today’s publishing market, even if I do everything right and follow all of the advice I’ve been given, I may never be published in the traditional sense.

After spending more than a six years seriously writing and over two years researching and employing tactics of how to publish my work, I decided to blog about this topic, to talk about what’s working for me and what is not.  Who knows, I might be able to help other writers struggling with the same issues.  With luck, this journey will take us both to the bookshelves!

Thank you for reading and keep writing!

Yet to come:  The Starting Line, Writers Group, Momentum, My First Writers Conference & Query Letter Hell!

7 thoughts on “Becoming a Real Writer

  1. The Starting Line, Writers Group, etc…. Don’t forget “Subversive Writers Dinner!”

    Like

  2. Stephanie Patterson

    Congratulations Eileen on your first blog! I am so proud of you for following through on your dream. You are an inspiration! Looking forward to reading more! All the best, Stephanie

    Like

  3. michelle taverner

    Nice piece Eileen! It all sounds very familiar to me! Are you going to the next Unicorn Conference?

    Like

    • Hi Michelle,
      Can you send a link so that I can follow your blog? I would love to go to the conference again, so hopefully, yes. How about you? I’m trying to follow all of that good advice. How goes the writing?

      Like

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    Like

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