Advice for Novice Writers

“You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn’t care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can’t be a way of life; the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it.”

Doris Lessing


I grew up reading and writing. In my teens I would read with an appetite that could not be satisfied. I discovered The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton during my freshman year in high school. It took me an hour to finish. Immediately after, I jumped on my bike and rode to the library and checked out all of her books. I read those in a day. Her books called to me. I believed that I, too, could write a book. So I started to write. Now I know that just because I can ride a bike does not mean that I should enter the Tour de France. But in my soul, I knew I should write. I wrote a 200-page novel and I took the same characters from The Outsiders but added a sister. I wrote poems and stories for my brother’s high school English classes. He got As on all of those assignments and one teacher suggested he look into a writing career. The fact that I wasn’t even in his classes gave me a boost of confidence; if I could write well enough to get an A in a class I’m not even in, could I write well enough to make a living?

When I attended SIU in Carbondale, Illinois I was unsure what career track I should choose.  All I knew is that I loved to write. I started taking creative writing classes and did great in those, even having a poem I had written read aloud in class. The “show don’t tell” lesson was embedded in the discussion afterwards. It made me think that maybe I have some writing talent.

But after getting pregnant the end of sophomore year, and deciding not to get married, I let my dream fade—but not disappear. I could not envision supporting my daughter as a “creative writer.” So I went into the big bucks of social work. Social work was a great fit for my skill set and personality. I worked hard, received great supervision, moved up the ranks, got a master’s degree, and earned awards and honorable mentions from community agencies. I did well. But I still wanted to write.

Toward the end of my 20-year career as a social worker, I used my long commute to build scenes, dialogue, and plot. The stories in me were desperate to be heard because as the line from The Alchemist says, “when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.”

I started taking writing classes at the Story Studio and the University of Chicago, joined a critique group, and writing organizations such as SCBWI and CWA, attended conferences and workshops, and went on weekend-long writing retreats. I peppered my life with writers and I wrote during every available moment. I showed my work to my critique group and to the people in my classes. I eagerly accepted constructive feedback, and always looked for ways to improve as a writer.

So after a 20-year career as a social worker (and with my husband’s support), I jumped into the business of writing full-time. I put the word, “business” in the sentence because in today’s market, you have to think of your writing, your brand, as a business.

I took marketing classes, attended social media workshops and conferences, built a website, followed author and publishing blogs, and signed up to receive newsletters from people who could teach me about the writing/publishing business. I started a Facebook fan page even before I had anything to market or sell. I learned I had to build a platform before I published anything so that’s what I did.

I truly believe that the universe works to make things happen in your life. I always have, even before I read The Alchemist. I had planned on self-publishing a children’s picture book: Ava the Monster Slayer: A Warrior Who Wears Glasses with my illustrator cousin Ross, but the universe intervened and sent me an agent. Literally, in my lap. Loretta from LR Children’s Literary loved what Ross and I had, so she pitched it to some publishing houses and we had an offer within two weeks.

Sometimes I get scared about what’s happening. Is this career real? Can I really be an author? And make a little money along the way?  I am blessed that we could drop to one income but it’s a struggle since my husband is gone a lot, working overtime to make up the shortfall. I so appreciate him for that! And I also love that he believes in my writing dream.

And that’s really the bottom line in following your dream to become a writer: have you prepared your spirit and your will? How hard are you willing to work? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How long are you willing to wait?

Your writing dream can only become a reality if you remember the days your younger self told you you could write. And do it well. Well enough to make you smile, and well enough to make readers smile, or cry, or feel frightened, or feel hopeful.

My “Personal Legend” is within my soul, within my reach, and I’m going for it! Won’t you join me in going for it as well?


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