Old Moon

Saturday, October 25, 2008

There are Friends...and there are Friends

The best friends understand what you need and do their best to help you achieve it. The best friends believe in you. The best friends put themselves into helping. This is for the friend who took the time to give me just the suggestion I was in search of.

She suggested that I say something about how I came to write a book and how I found a publisher. The latter part of that request will take too much space to tell now, but I will tell it later because it's a cautionary tale indeed!

I have harbored the ambition to be a writer since my preschool years. I was fortunate in my grandmother, who was a southern lady of great intellect and a lover of literature. From being read to until I could read, and later being repeatedly on the receiving end of her literary taste, I acquired a lot of mine by simple osmosis. It was a natural progression to the hope of writing to pass on the pleasure.

Later on, in high school, I had another mentor whose talents would be hard to equal. He taught us to write and not a little about criticism.

I wrote off and on all the time, through college, my children's growing years, but almost never finished anything. When I retired, I tried to complete a story. I nearly went mad from the drudgery of retyping everything I'd revised, and so I finished almost nothing except a few features for local newsapers. It was the first computer in our house in 1983 that set me on the road I'm still traveling.

I subscribed to Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers and decided to take the WD correspondence course in fiction writing, and then an advanced one. All to the good. My first published story was submitted by that first instructor.

Later on, I applied for a scholarship to a prestigious weekend workshop, and was accepted. It was a wildly simulating experience. After that, whatever workshops were offered within geographical and financial reach I attended, winning an actual prize at one for an essay on writing. I always thought the reason was that it was 100 words shorter than the allowable word count.

By then I was working on a novel. When I finished it, it seemed clear that it wasn't salable as it stood, and I had no idea what to do to it, so I set to work on another one. That second one was Settling. In the meantime, I was writing and submitting short stories, writing the occasional feature or profile for local papers (and not being paid for them). Also in the meantime, I kept a sporadic commonplace book. I can't really call it a journal because it wasn't regular enough. Now I continue with that, but have added a file box into which cards, slips of paper, and the like go when I have an idea I don't want to forget or a revision I hope to make.

For any wannabe writer, there are some wonderful books that helped me along the way like Anne Lamott's Birds by Bird, William Zinsser's On Writing Well, Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life, Carol Bly's The Passionate Accurate Story and a host of others.

I finished five novels in about ten years. Then a major move caused a hiatus of several years during which I wrote nothing. Now I'm hoping the second novel will be picked up, and I can try for two! There are two more in the wings, one of which needs major revision. I haven't quite given up hope of fixing the first one.

I've learned that somehow you can't quit, no matter how many rejections you receive, as long as you can honestly believe (the operative word is "honestly") that what you can say is as well said and and as interesting as the published work you read. It can't be easy to recognize something really bad, but the most valuable test is time. If you go back to a piece a month after you finished it and can't improve it, chances are it's as good as it's going to get. That's the worst problem for me with a novel: I can almost always go on tweaking it forever. A short story is apt to be truly done a whole lot sooner, and so can poems.

In another post, I'll get to how Settling got into print.

I'm no one to offer advice because my experience is so limited, and because one book does not an author make, but there you have it.

Till the next time...

1 comment:

Glenda C. Beall said...

This is a wonderful post. I will recommend my students read this to encourage them. Most of them are senior adults who are beginning to write or intermediate students who don't trust themselves enought to call themselves a writer.

Thanks for letting us know that to succeed you never give up.