Recently, I received this letter from a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.
I’ve been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I’ve spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October. When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on — even as an adult — is gone for good. Whether you’re ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother’s final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible. I’m 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don’t want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing “career” never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Do you want to write, or do you want to have written? Is it getting the story down on paper or computer that drives you, or the thought of who will receive the story? Is publishing critical? Are you looking at markets before you even write the tale?
Because these struggles can kill your muse. I wasted a lot of time, once NYC decided that the stories I wanted to tell were not viable, tossing them synopsis after synopsis, trying to get their interest. You don’t have to deal with NYC at all, if you don’t want to–self-publishing can be done, and done well, if you are willing to pay for good editing and cover art.
The best things I have ever written come when *I do not censor the Writer.* The first draft, you must tell your Editor Voice (and you have several) “There, there, you will get your chance to say something” and keep writing. The first draft of a story, you tell yourself the story. The second pass, you decide what you need to tell this story to other people. There’s usually editing–few of us can write a first and second pass in one go.
Beware the Critic Voice. That is the voice of every slighting comment, every undermining statement, every spiteful word ever tossed your way. A strong and smart woman once told me, “The Critic is never you.” But the Critic exists, even if no one has ever slammed your dreams of writing because you never whispered that dream aloud. It takes time to smash those slighting words down to dust, to weigh opposites in your hands and mash them together, halving their impact. But you can whittle down The Critic.
Most people I know who adore telling stories can’t stop. When they *cannot* tell stories it triggers depression. Right now you are going through that huge transition (it just happened to me, too) where suddenly, at reunions, you are the oldest person in the room. Right there is a huge adjustment. Be gentle with yourself, ask your heart what it wants to write, and give yourself permission to write. That time is NEVER wasted. In my youth I would tell people “I have to work.” I didn’t say write, because it wasn’t how I paid the rent, so they would say “You can do that after the movie, dinner, bike ride”–whatever.
It is for you. Women worldwide are told to put their heart on hold and take care of everyone and everything else. If you don’t take something for your own heart, you will have nothing to give others. Take the writing. It may turn out to be something you can offer the world.
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so. The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories. “I’m interested in how people respond to choice. What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing. Forthcoming stories will talk about new things that I’ve learned, and still hope to learn … with grace notes about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.” A Campbell Award nominee.
Irene Radford: For as long as I can remember my family told me that writing down my little stories was okay because I would learn to write well, a requirement for succeeding in the business world. Their ambition for me was to run the PTA. However, I mustn’t bother sharing my little stories with anyone because I could never succeed as a writer.
Period. End of conversation.
Except we kept having this conversation every time I got an idea for a new story or book or trilogy…
I’m not certain why my brain suddenly clicked into realizing that I can’t know I’ve failed until I try. It may have had something to do with my 10 year old son entering every mail-in contest the postman delivered. One of those contests was for Harlequin Romances. I won 4 free books every month for 3 months. Then of course I was expected be hooked and start paying for my book fix. But one of the option books I could order was “How to Write Romances for Love and Money.”
I tried it. Over the period of a couple of months I followed the guidelines and deconstructed several of my favorite romances. And then I wrote one. When I thought I was ready to submit I asked a friend of a friend about proper manuscript format. That person put me in touch with another friend of a friend who was active in Romance Writers of America.
I attended one workshop and went home to re-plot the book. The local chapter of RWA led me to a critique group. I re-wrote the book again and again until I submitted. And accumulated rejection after rejection.
At some point in this depressing process I discovered that not only did I need to try before I admitted failure: I had not failed until I gave up trying.
RWA and my critique group led me to an agent, and though we never sold that first romance, I found my voice in fantasy. And I succeeded. October 13, 1993 at 1:33 PM I received THE phone call, that DAW Books wanted to buy, not only the first book I had written for the fantasy market, but also 2 sequels.
Thirty-five books later I still haven’t found a reason to give up trying.
My few words of wisdom for those starting a writing career or re-starting one, is keep on trying. Apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard and keep writing. Five minutes a day, four pages a day, whatever works for your schedule. And keep on until there is nothing left inside you that demands to be written.
Then give it a rest for a bit until the words start bubbling out of you and write some more.
Irene Radford …aka P.R. Frost, aka C.F. Bentley, has been writing stories ever since she figured outwhat a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species, a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon,she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon, where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck.
A museum trained historian, Phyllis Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family, she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between.