On Being A Professional Writer

I’ve been writing for marketing and ads for almost thirty years, and wrote a first draft for a non-fiction-how-to-horse-massage almost twenty years ago. Life intervened and the book was stuffed into a box while I moved twice in the next year.  Four years ago, I wrote and researched for a year, my first attempt at a novel, then, when I realized it wasn’t working, I stuffed it in a drawer.  So, what do I call those early attempts?  Which is my first book?  I believe it’s neither, but rather a memoir that I started the following year, but not really.  That’s when I found my first writing conference, a journey that includes seven conferences over three summers.

I started with MIDWEST WRITERS WORKSHOP in the summer of 2010 at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana.  I went, in part, because I wanted to meet a blogger and staff member of Writer’s Digest who I’d been following.  Jane Friedman became and remains one of my all time favorite experts. She’s easy to understand and is generous with her extensive treasure trove of insider information for establishing a presence on the internet as well as the latest skinny on the publishing industry.  She’ll be there again this year (July 26-28th) along with Pulitzer Finalist and one of my favorite writer’s LEE MARTIN, who will be the keynote speaker this year’s event.  I first met Lee at AWP in Chicago earlier this year and fell in love with his writing.  The Muncie conference is less than four weeks away.  I can hardly wait.  But let’s not skip ahead.  Back to my first conference in July 2010.

When I arrived in Muncie, I had written almost 200 pages of my memoir.  I was overwhelmed and enthralled with all the writers and publishing professionals, with their generosity and openness.  I had signed up for several one-on-one “feedback” sessions, with one question echoing from the experts throughout.  “Where are you going with this?”  I wasn’t sure how to answer that because I thought I already had.  When I arrived home, I was totally confused about how to proceed.  I realized I was taking on too much for one book.  The questions kept coming as a result.  Should I break it up or push through to finish a first draft?  If I broke it up, how would I do that?  Needless to say, my head was spinning.

Serendipity intervened.  A few days after arriving home, exhausted from the impact of my first conference and rushing to take my college-age daughter to town, I slipped on a rug in my laundry room and went flying, crashing onto ceramic tile, all my weight on my left wrist.  With Greg out of town, my daughter drove me to emergency room.  The doctor told me I had shattered my wrist and it was bad.  So bad, that after my first surgery, he said it couldn’t be fixed.  I proved him wrong, but it took an intense six months of pleading for another doctor to take me on, two more surgeries, and months of physical therapy. The good side of this turn of events was that I had the time to rethink my book.  In early 2011 when my wrist brace was off and I could type with two hands, I began writing in earnest again.  Soon I completed a 150 pages of a new manuscript with a limited timeline.   It was time for another conference.  After more research on the internet, I chose THE WRITER’S INSTITUTE in Madison, WI. For three days on the lake at UW Madison, I had a blast–with teachers, writers and agents from all over the country.  I also met Laurie Scheer and elected to do some one-on-one work with her because of her enthusiasm and encouragement for my writing process.  It was the first of many workshops and conferences where I would search out her expertise.

Over the next few months, I did some editing, wrote fifty more pages and submitted the first chapter to a contest connected with the EVANSTON WRITERS WORKSHOP.  Evanston’s In the Trenches With the Writer Conference  was different from the other conferences in that it’s run by volunteers–writer’s helping writers.  They started by organizing several monthly critique groups that are actively attended in the Chicago area.  Though the conference was a bit smaller, it had the greatest impact on me because I won the Evie Award for Non-fiction.  The encouragement I received as a result of winning this award propelled me to go home and finish a 367 page manuscript in four months.

That was October of last year and since, I have been editing and refining DANCE WHILE THE FIRE BURNS, a Life On the Move.  I’ve attended A WEEKEND WITH YOUR NOVEL at Madison, AWP in Chicago, returned to THE WRITER’S INSTITUTE (the next one is in April 2013) and have enrolled for both Muncie and Evanston conferences.  I’ve started on a YA that’s been brewing in the back of my head and on yellow pads for a few years, and am actively looking for an agent and publisher, as well as exploring all the changes with ebooks and the Big Six.

The main reason I’ve been spilling my guts about my journey is because on July 14th, I will be part of a panel discussion for IN PRINT, my local writer’s group that meets at Cherry Valley Library from 1:00pm to 4:00pm (the last hour being for networking with the other members). It’s open to the public.  If you’ve been going it on your own and looking for some support for your writer’s journey, stop in.  They people are great.  Encouraging, enthusiastic, and generous with a ton of resource material.  It will be the first time I will be on the other side of the table.   Hopefully a first of many, especially after my book is published.  So, wish me luck.

If you’re on a writer’s journey, I’d love to hear about it, a bit or a lot in the comments, and if you have a blog, be sure to leave a link.