Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How did you start?

Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I'm in the company of authors--that I am an author. Me.

All my life, I've dreamed of "being an author." I grew up talking about writing, loving books. That picture is my mom with her nonfiction book, The Giant Hobby Handbook, published the year before I was born.
Over the years, I've read every book on the subject of writing, subscribed to "Writer's Digest", talked about it, and wrote bits and pieces of stories and oddball poems that I kept in my sock drawer.

As far back as I can remember, I scoured the mystery shelves at my library for the gold sticker that provided this intriguing information: "Agatha Award Nominee."

And now, I call Agatha Nominees like Joanna Campbell Slan and G.M. Malliet my colleagues--my friends. Congratulations to you both.

It's pretty wonderful to hang out here. To be a writer--an author.

Here's how it happened for me:

After all those bits and pieces of writing, I finally started writing every day. I took an inciting incident and a rough mental outline for a mystery and wrote a few chapters, very rough. I'd just turned forty. I guess it was my own weird form of biological clock, but it was that now or never feeling that finally got me moving.

It took a few months after that, maybe a year, but I finally screwed up my courage and joined a local writers' critique group. I pretty much had to. The universe sent me messages until I did. (I stumbled across the same flyer for the same group no less than five times on bulletin boards up to thirty miles apart, then it turned out the group leader was a friend of a friend.)

The workshop gave me a little more nerve, and I moved on to another, more serious, group.

Six months or so later, I took a deep breath and signed up for a ten day intensive novel writers' retreat. I was terrified. I felt like an impostor, but I went. My first trip to that retreat changed my life. I "became" a writer. A year later, on my second trip to the same retreat, I met my agent and signed with her. By now, I had most of my first book written.
My third trip, my first book was completed, and I began work on the sequel while my agent shopped my first book in New York. After a few rejections and a serious rewrite, we sold both books to Midnight Ink.
I've been at it ever since.
The point is this: I was terrified and I felt like a fraud and an impostor, but I went to my first workshop anyway. It was quite literally, the best thing I have ever done for myself. If I hadn't gotten an agent or sold my books, getting serious about writing and getting involved in the writing community would still be the best thing I'd ever done for myself. I have made lifelong friends and begun the career path I never dreamed possible.
How did it happen for you? Or will you make it happen for you?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Like you, Susan, all my life I dreamed of being a writer and told everyone from the time I was a little girl that I was going to be a published author one day. I had many false starts over the years but lacked the commitment and focus to see it through to the end. Then about 12 years ago it hit me that I was halfway through my life, maybe more, and had not seriously applied myself to reaching my personal dream. I kicked myself in the butt good and hard and never looked back. Wow, 12 years and 6 completed manuscripts ago, not to mention 2 more in draft stage. Time flies when you're having fun!

G.M. Malliet said...

There's a *wonderful* line in the (under-rated) movie Black Widow where Theresa Russell, who has by this point killed multiple husbands for their money, says, "Rich is hard. You never feel you've quite made it."

That's how I feel about writing, I'm afraid. Everything's a work in progress; there's always another hill to climb; you can never sit back and say, "Made it! I can rest now!"

But thank you for the lovely post that makes me feel I've kinda sorta made it.

Keith Raffel said...

Become an author?

Fake it till you make it.

G.M. Malliet said...

Susan - I swear my mother had a dress like the one yours is wearing here. Could they make the buttons any bigger, you think?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Susan, I feel like the Agatha nod was some sort of sign that, yes, I really can do this. It's so subjective an occupation, and if you market vigorously, people assume you can't write. So I totally get where you are coming from. Too bad we can't just crown each other, tap each other on the shoulder with a wand, and then GLOW about our career choices. Better yet, I'll bring my tiara and wand to Malice and tap you, then you can wear the trappings and tap me, and then MAYBE we'll feel it deep in our bones, right?

Susan Goodwill said...

I won't be at Malice this year. I will be cheering vigorously from Michigan. Perhaps some of that fairy dust will catch on the wind and we'll all get that we-made-it glow.
If the fairy dust doesn;t do it, once you guys get to the bar, there's a good chance that'll work!