Go to any bookstore and you’ll find the section on “Writing.” You’ll find dictionaries and grammar guides, this year’s Writer’s Market, books full of writing exercises and prompts, the advice of published authors. Most of these publications assume a few things: you need topics to write about, you have no idea how to get started writing and you require the advice of a total stranger to keep you inspired and hopeful that you’ll succeed. Now, for the people I do know who write, these premises are total bullshit.
I never met somebody buying a cookbook who’d never prepared a meal before. Parenting books assume you already have a child. As a writer checking out the books on writing, I already have ideas for books, I can look up contact info for agents and publishers online and I’ve got rough drafts of projects sitting all over my house. What I need help with as a writer isn’t anything those books address. I need readers for my book and I need connections to help me break into the world of published authors.
For a while I considered an MFA program to teach me how to write. The experience would be grand, I’ve no doubt, but I can’t leave my life for two years to indulge in more academic life. I already have one graduate degree—and I’ve learned plenty about the nuts and bolts of writing through teaching it for over a decade. Yeah, my work could use some fine-tuning—I’m aware of my weaknesses with description and plot. But I don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to work my way past these problem areas.
Besides, I suspect that most writing programs turn out fussy diva writers—and frankly I’ve no time for that. You’ve heard of these folk—they can only write between two-thirty and five-thirty, and only with a double mocha frappaccino in hand, and only with their favorite bathrobe swaddling their shoulders. Or the type of writers that spend so much time philosophizing about the theory and art and craft of writing that they produce little original work. Or the writers who must write and revise and spend hours and hours meddling and mussing over every phrase. Oh that I had the luxury of any such approach! All I need are a couple of hours of quiet, uninterrupted time with my laptop and I can write anywhere at any time. I believe anyone serious about telling their story can do the same. But let me tell you, it’s a bitch trying to churn out a complete thought or sentence with three kids vying for your attention and Elmo singing the alphabet song in the background.
I’m a thirty-ish housewife with three young boys living smack in the rural
For any other career the path to success is clearly laid out. When I became a teacher I completed the requirements for a college degree and a state license, sent out my resume and cover letter to schools with posted positions, and interviewed with potential employers. Scoring a job as an English teacher was simple.
Writing my first book was easy enough.
Becoming a writer, however, has been a much more difficult journey. Where do I begin, in earnest, my quest for publication? According to the books on writing, I’m to revise, revise, revise and write the perfect query and start sending my work out. Excuse me while I double over from hysterical laughter—most agents and publishers won’t look at your work without the recommendation of a current client. From whence does that network evolve when the closest thing to a “real writer” living near me is a New-Age emotive state poet laureate whose work I detest?
But the advice reads the same in all the books and articles I’ve read so I began another book, mailed query letters for my first and received a small pile of rejection postcards from publishers politely and uniformly refusing to consider reading my work.
Trolling the Internet I learned about a
Now everyone knows about the
After begging my husband and my mother-in-law, I faced the final hurdle to making the trip to
Dr. C smiled tightly when I bounced the idea off of him during my monthly exam. “You’ll need to bring a copy of your records with you, just in case,” he said, his dark, long-lashed eyes on my chart (yes, I go to that doctor--everyone knows Dr. C and we all shave our legs before appointments with him. “I don’t imagine there’s any point in arguing with you, you’ll go anyway.”
“Dr. C, I’ll be perfectly safe—it’s a medical college! I’ll be closer to a hospital there than if I was at home. People will be all around me. My kids will already be in good hands. I’ll mention you on my acknowledgement page when my book gets published.” I smoothed the paper gown across my bulging belly and gave him my most confident smile.
“Please don’t do that. It wouldn’t look good.”
“Okay then, I’ll give you an autographed copy.”
He left the examination room shaking his head. Jubilant, I began preparations—finish my novel, write my summary, photocopy necessary pages. June crept closer and I had all but the final two scenes hashed out and the entire book edited to my satisfaction. Sadie Blair, my main character, was entrenched in her career as a sales rep for Coddled Cuisine, Inc. and had landed herself a sweet country veterinarian to marry after suffering a miserable affair with a bisexual. I slogged through the book assigned to the workshop participants (Smilla’s Sense of Snow). I stuffed the twelve copies of my first twenty pages in my duffel, double-checked the boys’ bags, swallowed a prenatal vitamin and strapped us all into the minivan on that sunny Saturday in June. The workshop began on Sunday, the day after settling the boys at my mother-in-law’s. I waved at them and pulled out to the gravel road, turning the minivan in the direction of