I guess this is something most, if not all, authors face at least once after they publicly announce their intent to be a writer: those who judge the aspiring author as being a “wannabe”; those who accuse the writer as trying to cash in on the popular book craze of the day; those who think the writer has inexplicably and hopelessly decided to start writing on a whim, with no previous writing experience or skill.
I won’t pretend there aren’t many such authors out there, but I’m not here to judge people who share my love of words. I’m just going to explain my own undeniable drive to write, and defend myself a little.
My writing hobby is not in fact a hobby at all, but a deeply instinctual need that I started developing from the very first Dick and Jane books I learned to read in kindergarten (yes, this was back in the Stone Age when we used manual typewriters and Dick and Jane books were still around). I was put in the gifted reading program. Suddenly I was addicted. Books were amazing!
By sixth grade I knew I wanted to be an author, and I haven’t stopped practicing the craft ever since.
That’s right: This little “whim” to write stories started over 30 years ago. I’ve spent years and years reading books on writing; developing voice and narrative and dialogue and dozens of other writing techniques; learning what is good and what isn’t when telling a story; collaborating with critique groups and beta readers; researching agents, publishers, and editors; and devouring hundreds of books in my favorite genres.
I’d planned on going to college and getting a degree in English or Creative Writing, but due to a couple of very bad mistakes I made just out of high school, my college goals were derailed. I married someone who soon showed his true colors and prevented me from getting an education. Luckily, I escaped from that trap, but it cost me. I’m now married to a very supportive man who admires my talents and encourages me to follow my dreams. He’ll do anything to help me achieve my goals, including completing my education someday.
But because I didn’t get my writing degree early, I feel like I set myself back a few years. It hasn’t stopped me, though. In the absence of a formal education, I think I’ve done a pretty good job doing much of the learning on my own. Well, not entirely on my own. The writers’ groups and contacts I’ve made over the past few years have been invaluable, and they’ll never truly know how much their help and support have meant to me.
I can’t hope or expect to be as successful as J.K. Rowling, and I don’t want to be the next Stephenie Meyer. I just want to write good stories that people will like, and get them published in the traditional route. One or two people who should be close to me have said I only write because I want to get rich. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Only the luckiest authors get rich from this profession; most authors write because they love books, they believe in their stories, and they feel like a little part of them is dying if they don’t put their crazy imaginings down on paper.
These same people who should be close to me have said writers’ groups are for losers who can’t get their books published. Oh really? I’m friends with many successful, talented, pre-published and published authors in both my writers’ groups. Writers’ groups are for authors in every stage of the writing process; even highly successful authors like Stephen King belong to groups or use beta readers.
At a recent conference panel where selected query letters were read in front of top editors and agents (it felt like American Idol for authors–I still remember my terror when mine was the first one read), my query letter earned positive remarks from the American editor of Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. (If I’d known at the time she was Harry Potter’s American editor, I would have passed out then and there!) The full manuscript of The Moongate is now being considered by a New York agency rated as “recommended” by Predators & Editors.
Not bad for a loser who’s only writing on a whim, huh?
I’m not saying this to brag; in fact, although these developments are very exciting for me, I frequently tell myself I’m not good enough in spite of these people looking at my book. I have a terrible habit of comparing myself to others and always coming out the loser.
I have to keep reminding myself that I must be doing something right in order to get these professionals’ attention in the first place. Even if I’m ultimately rejected, I have to remember that the chances of getting out of the slush pile in a successful New York literary agency are very slim. And yet I got through. These thoughts keep me awake at night, but they’re also slightly encouraging.
Writing is an extremely competitive and discouraging market, and if it were just a whim, I’d have given up years ago.
Even if my goals of getting professionally published are never realized, in the end it’s about developing your talents and feeling good about sticking with a passion. I don’t want my children to look down on others who are pursuing a goal, and to call them “losers” because they haven’t yet achieved that goal; or mock them because they didn’t complete a formal education yet still think they can do something with their lives; or think that just because a person’s main purpose is to take care of their family and home, they can’t have another passion which drives them and keeps their dreams alive.
I want my kids to respect people who follow a goal and realistically try to make it possible. Better yet, I want to be an example to them that they should never give up on honing their talents and trying to be the best, and kindest, people they can be.