By Mary Jo
One of those questions authors get asked regularly is when we knew we were meant to be writers. I was asked this recently and remembered that I once blogged on this topic in the Dark Ages of the internet–over ten years ago in June 2006. I decided to look that blog up and see what has changed. My answer hasn't, but the publishing world has.
Some knew they were born to write from their earliest days. I am not one of those. The bald fact is that I knew I was a writer when I was offered a contract for my first book. Boringly mundane, no? Yet it’s the truth.
I was always a daydreamer, spinning stories in my head when sitting bored in classes. (And I was bored a lot.) While I thought that being a writer would be Totally Cool, it never occurred to me that I could ever occupy one of those pedestals in the sky where writers dwell. (Feel free to laugh. <g>)
But with my horrid handwriting and mildly dyslexic typing, becoming a writer never seemed even remotely possible. I just couldn’t get the words down. Writing was in the vague dream category, along with being tall, thin, or fashionably dressed. (None of those other vague goals have come even close to being realized!)
All that changed when I got my first computer to do copywriting and billing for my graphic design business. (Ah, my darling Leading Edge! We remember our first computers much as Regency fans remember their first Georgette Heyer. [My first Heyer was
SYLVESTER. <g>) Once I learned the basics of word processing, it occurred to me that I’d always wanted to write a book, and now I had a means of production where I could fix my errors and they would stay fixed. So I decided to see if I could write stories.
I charged into that first book with no expectations at all—I just wanted to see what I could do. I marked the floppy disk (5 ¼” yet!) with RR for Regency Romance, since I wasn’t ready to admit what I was doing even to myself.
One scene flowed into another, the story seemed reasonably coherent, I joined RWA, got the name of an agent from the friend of a friend, the agent marked up my 88 pages and sent them back with suggestions, and a few weeks later, I was offered a three book contract.
Yes, Virginia, that is the moment that I knew I was a writer. Having no expectations made the process easy in a lot of ways. I didn’t fear rejection since I didn’t expect acceptance.
Of course, selling my first book changed everything. I went from no expectations to behaving like a crazed lemming determined to learn everything I could about writing and publishing. I also developed my first and most compelling writing goal: to support myself as a writer. It took a few years, but I made it. And so it continues to the present day.
The process may be more difficult for someone who early develops a passionate desire to be a writer. Then there is yearning and fear of failure.
Actually, the problem is not so much the act of writing, which can be a great creative high, but getting published, which is usually difficult.
So maybe the real answer to the original question is that one knows one is a writer when one begins to write. I have a little Post-It note on my monitor that says, “Writers write.”
Sometimes, when publishing is making me nuts, I need to remind myself of that. I became a writer on the Saturday I sat down and started The Diabolical Baron. I recognized that I was a writer on the day someone offered actual money for my daydreams.
A writer sits down and produces words. She doesn't just daydream stories as I did for many years, and talking endlessly about about the book one plans to write is worse than useless because that dissipates the creative energy. Real writing is not mere imagination–imagination is pretty common. Writing is making the serious effort of getting words down in a form that can communicate to others even if you never show your work to anyone else.
But there are so many Magic Moment possibilities that aren't writing! Hopes and dreams of all flavors: Becoming a teacher. Or a nurse who saves lives. Mastering a perfect souffle or growing magnificent flowers. Or the REALLY hard creative goals, like having children and raising them well.
What hopes and dreams have you held, and perhaps been surprised by that recognition? Which of them have you then achieved? This a season of joy and sharing (and stress <G>), so please share a Magic Moment of your own. I'll give a copy of the Word Wench anthology THE LAST CHANCE CHRISTMAS BALL to one person who comments between now and midnight Tuesday.
Mary Jo, who still can't believe her luck that she can tell stories for a living!