Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm a Writer! Seriously.

Several years ago when I first began writing, I kept my hobby a carefully guarded secret. Sound familiar? Unsure of my talent and commitment, I wouldn’t admit I scribbled stories for fun. No one ever saw one word of my masterpiece. Actually, my stories never extended beyond the first chapter. Sometimes they ended on page five. Okay, they usually came to a screeching halt on the first page with a few well crafted paragraphs. How could anyone unable to progress beyond a few hundred words expect to write a novel? That unavoidable fact always brought me back to reality.

But I hated the reality of unfilled dreams. Of failing to even try.

I zoomed down the runway, but I never took off. My husband, a retired Navy pilot, spent several years learning how to fly. Could I avoid the preliminaries and take off without developing any skills first? Not me, I’m afraid. So I studied how-to books and mastered some basic skills, but I still didn’t have the confidence to admit I wanted to become a published author.

When I finally confessed my secret ambition to one of my best friends, she shrieked with laughter and sputtered, “You have as much chance of getting published as I have of becoming a rock star.” (My dear friend can’t sing in tune. Neither can I.) I got her point loud and clear. I picked up my smile and chuckled right along with her.

My family didn’t take me seriously, either. Oh, they thought they did. They offered encouragement from time to time, and they told their friends I wrote which was more of a hindrance than a help. I’m thankful they cared. However, despite their verbal support, I noticed they weren’t quite as generous when my writing time impinged upon their needs and plans. When I wrote I wasn’t available to anyone but my muse.

I finally realized no one took me seriously. My writing was just a quirky little hobby. To earn some respect I needed to be published. But that wouldn’t happen without time to study and practice the craft. And for that, I needed to be taken seriously.

My solution was simple: I entered writing contests. Secretly, of course. When I began to final, family and friends looked up in shock and took notice. Maybe I wasn’t published yet, but I’d achieved a milestone they understood and respected. To them, I was now a writer, not just a wannabe.

I was always a writer, but I was the only one who really acknowledged it. Contests have given me feedback etc. but most of all, they’ve made me legitimate!


Janet Dean said...

Cara, unlike you, I told everyone I'm a writer. Friends and family were interested and asked me about the writing often, but when I didn't sell for years and years, I suspect they questioned my talent. Understandable. I did, too.

But you're right. Placing and winning contests--especially the Golden Heart--made me feel more legitimate and impressed my friends.

Being a blabbermouth had its down side, but now that I've sold I've got lots of people who've waited as long as I have to see my books in print. They can't wait to buy them. :-)

Whether we're secretive or open, we have to protect our writing time. And that's tough to do.


Ausjenny said...

Thanks Cara, its interesting how friends and family dont take us seriously or they will patronise in a nice way. Its not just writing its other things also.
Its like doing cross stitch on a very small scale but I did some bits of work and you get oh thats nice but they dismiss it as just a hobby nothing special until they see the same peice framed and winning champion exhibit of the show and its wow You are tallented.
It seems some people need to see results and rewards before they realize you have a gift or talent or are serious
(Of course if I was to make a living of doing cross stiches for people i would starve! one lady pays me $1 an hour! but after 300 hours they are not going to want to pay a good price like even $5 an hour.)
But back to the post I totally respect your ability and admire your gift.

Tina M. Russo said...

Oh, sooo true.

I love the blank stare they give you when you explain a milestone in your writing.

"So does that mean you get a contract?"

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, Cara, you hit the target squarely with this one! It's so hard for me to talk about writing with non-writers. They just don't get it. They don't get ME.

And the year my ms. won the Golden Heart, when I told my family and friends, their first question was, "So when will the book be published?"

A question I am still asking myself nearly 3 years later.

Another issue I struggle with is when family members ask if they can read the ms. anyway. I might let my husband read my unpublished work, and occasionally my daughters. But I just can't imagine letting casually interested non-writers -- family, friend, or otherwise -- see a ms. until it's a real BOOK.

Robin said...

I have harbored a secret dream of writing for many years. I finally confessed my desire outloud on my blog! Nothing like asking for the pressure to be put on. But I am finding that by admitting my desire it commits me to action - gives me the extra nudge I needed to actually begin the process. I just completed my first chapter of my first novel and I am so excited. I don't know how seriously anyone is taking me, but at this point I am flying high. And I'm praying I don't nosedive!
Thank you for sharing your experiences - it's so good to know I am not taking this journey alone.

Kim said...

You know, I have to agree...there is something about "saying it out loud" that is difficult. I know when I first shared my dream of writing here, I almost had a panic attack! I mean, who am I among these other, published, award-winning authors?

But, I can say this with confidence...starting my blog back in the Fall and reviewing good books has done more for my writing than anything I've done in a long time! I've received such confirmation and encouragement from so many people who don't even know of my love for writing! I'm so glad God is directing my steps. I'm so thankful that I found this site and all of the wonderful people who hang out here! I'm learning so much - but most of all I'm re-establishing the daily discipline of ....writing! It has been too long!!

Thank you, again, Seekers! God is using your gifts in wonderful ways in the lives of others! I appreciate each and every one of you!


Gina Welborn said...

When a senior adult goes to college, do we call his/her getting an education a "hobby"?

To me a hobby is something someone does for leisure, not to make a career.

Thanks, Cara, for the encouragement of knowing I'm not the only unpublished writer who feels this way.

Kimberli said...

"unlike you, I told everyone I'm a writer. Friends and family were interested and asked me about the writing often, but when I didn't sell for years and years, I suspect they questioned my talent. Understandable. I did, too."

Oh Janet, this has been my experience as well. People constantly ask me "how's it going with the book" meaning have you sold it to an agent or editor yet. When I try to explain how the publishing business works, they cut me off and tell me to stop making excuses and just trust the Lord. After a few of those encounters, I finally started replying with, "there's 50,000 Christian authors out there (creative license on that one :o) trusting the Lord to publish their work and only so many publishing slots per year. I am trusting the Lord, but I also have to learn to be better than everyone else!

They understand that--until the next conversation. I don't think they're questioning my talent as much as they're questioning the effort I put into exposing my work. It's hard to face when they don't understand the business or the publishing process. Sweet of them to think I'm so wonderful, but hard to face, especially during times of self-doubt.

Have to share this with y'all. I couldn't sleep last night. Probably because of the pile of decongestants I took to combat the allergy-induced dizziness I woke up with yesterday morning. Up, alone at 1:00 A.M., I grabbed the laptop and started working on two stories. I accomplished more in an hour than I had in a week of daytime distractions. And this morning, after doing two brutal miles on the treadmill (give me a four-mile high mountain and I'll gladly climb it. Two miles on a treadmill frustrates me) I grabbed the laptop again and started jotting down scenes I worked out while working out. I tried not to edit or worry about what anyone would think, I simply focused on the conflict in each scene and let the words to pour out. The story popped to life and I'm thrilled.

Not thrilled enough to tell anyone about it lest I hear, "are you planning to get it published", but thrilled enough to gussy it up and submit it for critique. Whoo hoo.

Mary Connealy said...

I didn't tell anyone for years.

Good grief it's a literary AA meeting.

Hi, I'm Mary and I'm a writer.

The gasps, the shock, the revulsion!!!

So I come to you guys. Regular people just don't get it. And it's okay that they don't get it, it just makes the writing life pretty lonely. I had a sister or two I talked to about it. My mom, who thinks I'm so matter WHAT I do, bless her sweet kind heart. Two neighbor ladies, one old friend. I remember doing a talk...yikes, how did that happen, for the PEO group. I write a book review column for my local paper, and they wanted me to come and do a book review.

What was I thinking to say yes.
After my little talk we had dessert and someone said, "So, Mary, you love books, are you writing one?"
Talk about random. It seriously took every ounce of my courage to say, "Sure, isn't everyone writing a book?"
They laughed but they pushed it a little and I did admit I was writing a book. I felt like I'd just ... i don't know CONFESSED to some huge crime in public. I kept waiting for the Common Sense Police to send a paddy wagon. But they let me roam around free.

You know what was a big moment to me? My oldest daugther Josie read my book, she usually was a willing guinea pig, keep in mind she was about fifteen when I started writing, so I controlled her allowance...wanna earn an extra five bucks this week, kid????

One time after she'd read it, my husband said something along the lines of; Josie says it's just not too bad. It's pretty good in fact. She forgets you wrote it when she's reading."

This was Petticoat Ranch. You know how many books I'd written by THEN???

But the fact that Josie had said it somehow made my husband believe it. And it made me realize that the family was talking about my writing independently of me. Which meant it was in their consciousness.

The first of my work my husband ever read was Petticoat Ranch AFTER it was out in print. Although I do ask him questions. He knew a lot about anti-freeze being poisonous for example and I needed it for a murder weapon.

"She's actually pretty good. She forgets you wrote it when she's reading." :) Such a simple little thing. It's still a milestone to me. Wow, I'm getting weepy.

Cara! This is YOUR fault.

Mary Connealy said...

And I found out my destiny. It's to dust. I now have a dream -- to dust my house once before I die.

I'm feeling pretty good, though. So I think I can wait a while. Wouldnt want to fulfill my destiny too early. Then what? I have to find a new destiny? THE PRESSURE!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Mary, you give new expression to the Scripture "A prophet is not accepted in his hometown."

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, and now I feel better about only dusting once every 3 or 4 months. And then if at all possible I get Jack to do it.

Cara Slaugher said...

I'm SO glad dusting isn't my destiny because I'd feel pressured to try it just once. Well, maybe I wouldn't. I can ignore vacuuming, so why not dusting?

Debby Giusti said...

Glad housecleaning isn't a prerequisite to be a Seeker! :)

Cara, I was a "private" writer as well. Took me years and years before I came out of the closet! :)

Kimberli, loved your comment about trusting the Lord but needing to write better than everyone else!

Krista Phillips said...

It's really nice to know that others share the same feelings!! I have dreamed of writing for years, but the business of actually having a regular paycheck and providing for my family has always gotten in the way (I know, imagine that!! Wanting to feed my children! The nerve!) Most people are just like "That's cool! Where can I buy your book?" and I have to explain, no, I am a writer... but the editors and agents just haven't found that out yet!! But last year I really actually started to put more effort into it, and I am excited about the future.

My family doesn't always understand me, but I do know they support me. My sister sent me an email one day and it was pretty much perfect, and summed up my fears and gave me a lot of hope. I'll post a portion of it here... I love my sister:-)

"Krista, I think you should go for the book thing whole heartedly! Honestly, at first my thoughts were be careful, what if people don't like the book as much as Krista would like, what if it doesn't happen, so on so forth. But we all do that too much and it would be awesome if you could lead the way, step out on faith and make something happen! Doesn't mean that it won't take sacrifices, you might have to write 30 books before anyone of them gets picked up, but if you are truly passionate about this than you will be willing to do that. I say go for it! Don't be afraid to say God made me a writer, so that is what I am going to be! Be sure to invest a lot into learning more. Find books about how authors became authors, go to those seminars, research, research and then do more research! I don't know, maybe I will be more practical tomorrow, I'm just sick of the mundane today."

Myra Johnson said...

Krista, can I borrow your sister? Wow! What an inspirational e-mail! Let's all strive to be a lot more daring and a lot less mundane!

Gina Welborn said...

Dusting?! In the house.

Oh I'm so confused.

I thought dusting was what you called that sprinkling of white stuff on the ground and fauna during winter.

How can snow sprinkles get inside the house?

Must be a Nebraska thing.

Patricia W. said...

I too am a closet writer.

Whew! That feels better.

Oh, my family knows and a few select friends. But that's it.

Because it takes time to write a novel, and even more to get one published. I don't want the pressure of being questioned by well-meaning but uninformed folks and feeling like I just blew my diet for the umpteenth time.

Then, there's the thing of what's published? I wrote and sold sweet romance stories to the confessions mag. I even had a short story published in an anthology, and sold an e-book. Many dismiss this. If it's not a novel they can see and feel, doesn't count. Since this is our "literary AA", I can say that I dismiss these things myself at times while I strive for that novel contract.

As far as being taken seriously by family, I find that the more seriously I take it, in terms of writing when folks are awake and can see me putting in writing time, the more seriously I'm taken. Because it means I'm making a choice to write as opposed to do something else. Before and after everyone else is awake makes it not real for them, although I get that this is the most convenient time for many of us.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, man, Cara, your post gives me goosebumps because I rememeber well when people (family and friends) did not take my writing seriously. But I soon discovered that the only one who really needed to take my writing seriously was ME! So I did.

Like you, I studied self-help books, attended writing seminars and entered contests galore. And it was actually the contests where I started to see a return on my investment. When I would final or win, suddenly I would see a gleam of respect in people's eyes. Quite simply, for me, finaling in a contest was the closest thing to being published and the #1 factor that helped others to take my writing seriously.

Julie Lessman said...

But I am finding that by admitting my desire it commits me to action - gives me the extra nudge I needed to actually begin the process.

Excellent point, Robin, and so true! Like Mary said, it's a "literary AA meeting" here -- just admitting that you have a problem ... er ... talent that you want to utilize is the first step in realizing a dream. You go, girl!


Mary Connealy said...

Also, one reason you don't tell people is because you DO tell a few people and it just comes out so BADLY.

Hey, I was in a car wreck once. Think I'll slam my car into another tree just to relive the fun.

You can't just say, I'm writing a book. Because they say, "Cool when can I buy a copy."

Then you're OFF...non stop, guaranteed no exit ramp as you explain and explain and explain about the process of getting a book published.

So no, you don't mention it if you can possibly avoid it.

Anne Barton said...

Patricia, I love your comment about taking ourselves seriously before others can. That's so true!

I can also relate to Myra and others who said it's difficult to let certain people read your work. For example, even though I love my brothers dearly, I would never trust them with my babies (manuscripts) because they are all about blackmail. They got their hands on my diary once in junior high and still quote passages from it every Thanksgiving, so I'm thinking they can't be trusted with the love scenes in my stories.

When someone casually says they'd be interested in reading my work, I suggest they read the excerpt on my website. Then, if they think that they'd still like to read more I'm willing give them the whole binder. Anyone who's seriously interested will follow up but those who are merely curious will be satisfied with a taste.

As far as coming out of the closet goes, I think we need to be proud to call ourselves authors. This may be the elementary school teacher in me coming out, but all of us who write are authors (not just the people's who's names end up on book covers).

Time for recess! :)

Debby Giusti said...

Anne, I agree. If you write, you're a writer. And Patricia, you're not only a writer, but a published writer with all your credits! Good for you!

I wrote for a number of magazines before I sold my first book. After I'd published probably six to eight articles, I finally started saying I was a writer. And yes, Mary, like you, I was very careful about to whom I'd divulge that precious information.

Missy Tippens said...

So many good, encouraging words today! Cara, great post.

I was pretty open with my writing once I joined RWA and GRW. But I didn't really broadcast it until I joined a Bible study and shared with that group of ladies that I was praying to be published. That was almost 10 years ago, and they were some of the first ones I contacted after selling! (This was at a previous church). I heard that when it was announced that I'd sold a short story, one of the women from Bible study stood and hollered, "Praise God" or "Halellujah", somthing along those lines. :) So even though it can be risky to tell, those some people can be very supportive. (Though I also had those who immediately asked when it would be publised--which usually made me feel bad.)


Melanie Dickerson said...

Myra said,
It's so hard for me to talk about writing with non-writers. They just don't get it. They don't get ME.

I can so relate to this. I get so embarrassed sometimes by the looks I get when people hear I'm a writer. But I AM a writer! What they think doesn't really matter.

You can't wait for everyone else to carve out writing time for you, you have to just do it--no matter what they think.

My husband was shocked, I think, when I sold my first children's story. That's when I earned a little respect, and it's when he bought me my first computer. Before that, I had to type all my stories and cover letters on his work computer.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, Melanie, you poor thing. NOT! My first published stories were typed (over and over and over) on an IBM Selectric. My first computer was a Kaypro II (anybody remember those?) and everything (including programs) was on 5-inch floppies. My second computer had 80K hard drive memory. My third had 80 megs! Now I'm up to 1 gig!

Gina Welborn said...

Is a Kaypro something like those things I've seen in the museums. Hmmm. What are they called? Type-something.

Oh well.

I suppose if those type-thingies were all that dandy we'd still be using them.

The other day I heard someone mention a pentil...or a thingyamabob like that. Seems like it had carbon dioxide surrounded by pressed paper that you cut with a knife to make it sharp so you could write with it. I wonder if it's something like a crayon.

I guess I'm too much of a youngin to know what those antique weeze-a-wobbles are.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cara, sorry I'm late to the party, but glad to see everyone!

Lots of great comments here, and if this is Literary AA then I need a nice, strong cup of coffee to get me through the night, gals.

I'm staring at contest entries due to go out tomorrow, and thinking of the ones I got returned to me today, which said exactly the opposite of the ones I got stellar scores on last week, and I'm wondering if I have the cold, hard cash to put out on a crap shoot that may garner nothing when I'm scraping pennies to keep bills paid.

Is it worth it? Can I garner high enough scores to end up on that agent or editor's desk????

And even though I'm working extra to feed my 'habit', I've got huge things coming up in the next two months and the money flow is definitely in the wrong direction.

Gracious sakes to Betsy, these are not easy questions for me to answer, and every time I hear someone complain about a deadline or revisions, I have to bite my tongue because there are so many of us that would gladly trade places with them.

What are they thinking?

So then I get mad enough to dig my heels in (like we talked about the other day) and forge ahead, just because I want the chance to hold that contract in my hand and do the job right.

But I don't even talk about it with my family any more. They get too disappointed for me, seeing the near misses and the tight spots, and knowing there's nothing they can do.

If you can quit, do it.

I have no idea who said it first, but those are tough, intelligent words...

And I can't quit. Just can't. Stubborn or stupid, that's the way of it right there.

Hi, I'm Ruthy, and I'm a writer...

Mary Connealy said...

You know, Ruthy, I don't think of writing as something I do.

I think of it as something I am.

I just have always expressed myself best with the written word. I filled my childrens' baby books with writing not pictures (okay some pictures too) but insane amounts of writing.
Funny thing there, I reread that now and want to rewrite it, revisions....but it's too late. It's ink. :)

I always made an event out of the Christmas Letter.

I write letters to people. Less than I used to but more than anyone else I know.

And seriously, I think I'll just keep writing for the rest of my life whether anyone wants it or not. I love it. It's fun.

If it was beer, I promise my family would be holding an intervention, at least back in my unpubbed days.

I yam what I yam.

Missy Tippens said...

Speaking of revise, Mary. I just re-read my original comment and it had tons of typos. That's what 2 hours of sleep will do to ya!

Ruthy, if I ever complain of deadlines or revisions, I give you permission to kick me in the behind. I want to always be grateful for the opportunity!


Krista Phillips said...

Wow! I think you hit a nerve!!! I never realized so many people felt the same way!

I just realized I forgot the most important part of my post.

Hi, my name is Krista... and I... am... a... WRITER! WOOHOO!

Lorna said...

Cara, I think you addressed a tough topic admirably. Like Missy,the women in my Bible study group were the only ones who knew what I was doing. Then, my husband started telling people I was a writer. When I told him that he couldn't say that because I wasn't published, he said, "Why? You write, don't you? It's who you are. It's who you've always been." I stopped arguing because he was right and he's also 6'6".

So, hi, I'm Lorna, and I'm a writer.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I had to cut my earlier comment short. I wasn't complaining about having to type my stories and letters on my hubby's work computer (even though I was only allowed to use it late at night) it was just funny to me that he suddenly was gung ho to buy me a computer when I sold that first story. However, it's been a horse of a different color since I decided I wanted the big enchilada and started writing full-length novels. Like Ruthy mentioned, he gets so disappointed for me when I get rejections. I think they affect him more than me (if that's possible!) I can understand how Ruthy feels about quitting, too. Sometimes you wish you could quit. I mean, I go to the gym and see women my age (well, most of them are probably younger) with small children who became obsessed with fitness. Now they have great bodies and teach classes and do personal training and actually earn steady money. (Not big money maybe, but it's more than I make writing!)

My point, I guess, is that they have something to show for their efforts. At least, that was my train of thought a few days ago when I was depressed about not having an agent, getting rejection after rejection and smack-down contest scores. But I hope I don't sound whiney. I'm doing what I want to do, what I love (when I'm not too depressed, that is). I don't have any inner yearning to be a fitness instructor. But I long to have people read my stories, read them and laugh, cry, smile, sigh. Writing is all I want. I am a writer and I don't know if it's possible anymore to separate myself from that identity, or that yearning to be published.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Did anybody else count all the cliches in that post of mine? Yuck.

God is faithful. He cannot be otherwise. Did people offer support and encouragement to Jesus when He said, "I have come to preach good news to the poor"? Hardly. But God was with Him. And He's with us, too.

Oh, I am just so original and pithy and deep tonight, ladies. It comes from subbing a first grade class all day and then screaming for my daughter's T-ball team for an hour and a half--we lost--again. Haven't won a game. Poor hubby. He's the coach and not feeling very good about his coaching abilities right now.

I digress. What was I talking about, anyway? Not sure. Need to go get some sleep. Wish I could be like Mary, writing all night. But I've hit my brick wall tonight.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wow, Cara!

This is like reading my story!

I wrote in 5-subject notebooks for YEARS and NO ONE knew!

One day after I'd rented a typewriter or something (so long ago I can't even really remember LOL!) but I had a typed rough draft which I let my sister-in-law read. She got my brother, who is an avid reader anyway, to read it. Then my mom missed the Superbowl to read it!

That's when I knew I had a drop or two of talent :-)

Great post. Thank for sharing.

Pamela S Thibodeaux
"Inspirational with an Edge!"

Myra Johnson said...

Yes, Gina, probably they have a Kaypro display in the Smithsonian. In the basement storage closet. Behind the mop bucket. In fact, they may now be using them for mop buckets.

Anyway, I realized sometime in the night that I don't know a kilobyte from a megabyte from a gigabyte. I think my "80K" should have been 80 meg and my 80meg should have been 80gig. My newest computer has a 120G hard drive. Sheesh! And I'm starting to worry that's not big enough!