Note: This blog is one of many that are part of a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) campaign www.webucator.com initiated to encourage new writers. Check out others at May you find a bit of inspiration, whatever your writing goals may be!
25 years ago, I quit my day job–well, sort of. With the security of enough consulting contracts to cover day care for a year, I began the laborious background research for a novel based on my great-great grandmother, a feisty pioneer if there ever was one.
To really become a writer, though, requires writing, not just researching, so I joined a committee at church that was working on materials for an intriguing course. On that committee was a published author. A few weeks into the project, she called and asked me to revise a speech, then a paper. Next thing I knew she contracted with me to edit the third edition of one of her books. Then I assisted her with a brand-new title. And the church course became a book, so I became the co-author of three titles. Nonfiction. Not what I had in mind at all.
Now, 25 years and 25 nonfiction titles later, I’m beginning to dream about novel writing again. In fact, my plans for the new year include taking at least an hour a week to resurrect and finish a children’s book I started perhaps 15 years ago. Along the way, I’ve mastered the personal narrative stories sought by Chicken Soup and Guideposts, penned a few chapter-ending poems, written epilogues in parable form–in other words, made the most of creative writing techniques while creating nonfiction. Here’s what I learned along the way.
- Genres cross-pollinate. Attending the Guideposts Writers Workshop gave me storytelling techniques that keep readers reading my business and education books. My chair even insisted I weave my own story into my dissertation! If your circumstances allow it, sure, stick to novel writing, but if like me you need to make a living while crafting that masterpiece, writing other stuff will enhance your skills in ways you can’t quite imagine until you try.
- Royalties aren’t the main thing. You may be the next Times best-selling author, but I and most other writers have other sources of income. My books increased my credibility as a speaker, education consultant, and corporate trainer, which I’ll admit can really cut into writing time. However, it’s also allowed me to try out new ideas real-time with real potential readers (I’ve even tried out chapters of my fiction project on 6th graders and, uh, know what to fix…)
- Write with others. Early on, I joined a local writer’s group and heard over and over, “If Mary Higgins Clark needed a critique group, so do you!” I’ve benefited so much from coauthors, from a circle of colleagues who never hesitate to tell me what’s good and awful, and other writers willing to “give notes.”
- Take criticism. A successful husband-wife writing team joked that their dream was to one day receive a manuscript back from the other with the letters DCAW at the top. Don’t Change A Word. In 60 years of writing together, it’s never happened. I try to remember that if I don’t like someone’s suggestion, I need to think hard about whether a third alternative exists before insisting my original way is best.
- Keep learning. I noticed early on that writing workshops were often populated with successful writers. Granted, they might be more likely to have the funds to attend, but what I observed was a passion for improving their craft. My local writer’s group once sponsored a fabulous seminar on word choice, sentence structures that matter, and yes, even a bit of grammar. Who attended? The most experienced writers in the group, perhaps the only ones who know how learning more about word-crafting is always a great idea.
While I have a few book-length projects on back burners, my passion right now is marketing some of the great tools for leaders and educators that I’ve already written. That means putting time into blogs, articles, attention-grabbing presentations, and more. It also means networking and being seen. Just yesterday during a workshop I attended, as my table group discussed a task the presenter had given us, another person mentioned she was reading a great book on polarity thinking. My book on polarity thinking! She gushed over how helpful she was finding it (and yes, I said, “I wrote it!”) Knowing that someone, somehow, is benefiting from my work is the reason I write.
My 2015 goal is to use that long-ignored fiction project to clear my brain and keep me fresh for the practical tasks, always looming for midlist authors like me, of making others aware of what I’ve written and why they should read it. My journey as a writer isn’t even close to what I imagined 25 years ago, but I’m very happy that it’s taken me to where I am now.