Life is unpredictable. For writers, its capriciousness can be especially difficult because it influences not only our ability, but also our desire, to create. More than one writer reading this has at some point wanted to quit writing for good.
Maybe it was years ago. Maybe last week. Maybe this morning when you decided to read this blog rather than admit you’re just not feeling it when it comes to putting words on paper. I know where you’re coming from, and it sucks, right? But I also know the joy of stick-to-it-iveness, the success that can be achieved if you roll with the punches rather than giving up permanently.
Becoming an Author
I’ve written my entire life, as I’m sure most of you have. But when I got serious about writing a novel, I was determined to learn everything I could about the craft. I joined Romance Writers of America and began going to local chapter meetings. I took online classes. I bought craft books. I didn’t just read novels — I studied them.
My plan was to become a published author, and when my husband retired I would quit my day job and write as we camped our way across the country in our fifth wheel RV. I had it all figured out.
I pitched my first book to an editor at the RWA National conference several years ago. She requested the partial. I submitted it. She requested the full. I panicked. I got a bad case of the “be careful what you wish for” nerves.
I’d been told that once you sell a book, you better enjoy what you’re writing because your readers will want more of the same. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write that genre forever. A battle between fear of failure and fear of success raged within me and I froze. But I wasn’t quitting. I still called myself a writer. I’d figure it out, because I was determined to submit that book.
While I struggled with the requested book’s genre, I decided to write short stories for magazines like True Confessions. I wrote four, submitted four, sold four. The pay was paltry and there was no byline, but my confidence grew.
However, if I was going to spend my time writing, it was going to be a novel. And by God, my name was going to be on it. My mojo returned. Once again, I attacked the book, determined that nothing would stop me from getting it published.
My Unpredictable Life
My determination couldn’t hold a candle to what life had in store. Both my husband and father were diagnosed with cancer. I bounced between Houston and Denver, taking care of my parents, their affairs, and my husband while he underwent five continuous years of chemo. First my dad passed away, then my mom, and then, my dear husband.
Throughout that five-year period, my writing took a backseat to grief. I was emotionally bankrupt, physically drained, and though many writers can, I can’t channel my pain onto the page.
I’d been newsletter editor for the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter for years, and I couldn’t even bring myself to continue my monthly column. But I still went to chapter meetings whenever possible. I kept in touch with my writer friends. I continued to read craft books and study novels. I never stopped calling myself a writer. I just didn’t write.
Finding My Way Back
The first six months after my husband died were lost to crying and wallowing in grief. And then one day, I got the itch to write. I wasn’t ready to deal with the book yet, so I decided to take baby steps. I wrote an Editor’s Corner article for the newsletter, posted it to my website blog for accountability, and vowed to never miss another month.
Next, I wrote a short story and submitted it to Woman’s World Magazine. The competition was fierce, but at least they paid well and had bylines. It wasn’t accepted, but my creative juices were finally flowing. I’d dipped my toe into the ocean and felt the pull of the tide. I had to write.
So I pulled out the damn book, decided to change genres, and started over. Life’s too short to not write what you love. I saved the setting, a few of the characters, and brainstormed a whole new suspense plot.
Around the same time, a new chaptermate asked me to critique with her. To me, critique partners were to writing what a league was to bowling. They sucked all the fun out of it because you had to show up whether you wanted to or not. But I agreed to give it a try.
I soon found that being accountable to someone other than myself was everything I needed. Instead of just calling myself a writer, I was a writer. Every damn day. Within a year, my critique partner and I finished our books, entered contests, and finaled in the Golden Heart. We signed with agents.
And that book I was determined to publish for so many years? It’s being released this September through Tule Publishing’s mystery line. Because I. Never. Gave. Up.
What You Can Learn from My Story
Life is going to knock us down and kick us where it hurts the most. I’m in awe of those who can write through hard times without missing a beat. But for the rest of us, the important thing is to never wave the white flag.
Take a break if you need to, but hang on to your passion, even if it’s by the thinnest of threads. Continue to call yourself a writer. The day will come when you’ll resume the pursuit of your dream, even if that dream’s shape isn’t what you first imagined.
Instead of writing while gallivanting cross-country on six-month adventures with my husband, I’m writing in my home office or on my screened-in patio. It isn’t what I thought it would be. The important thing is that it is.
It’s bittersweet that my first book is about to be published and my husband and parents, who always believed in my talent and encouraged me to write, aren’t here to share my success. But I celebrate every step of my writing journey, big and small, with my ride-or-die critique partner and my friends.
And really, what’s the alternative? Not writing? Not an option. I never gave up. I never quit calling myself a writer. And now I can call myself an author.
And who knows…maybe, just maybe, they have books in heaven.
Have you ever wanted to quit writing when life tossed you a curve ball? How did you avoid throwing in the towel permanently?
Multi-award-winning suspense author Leslie Marshman is (finally) putting her psychology degree to good use, getting inside the heads of her characters and figuring out what makes them tick. She writes novels that feature kick-ass heroines, the heroes who love them, and the bad guys who fear them. Leslie called Denver home until she married a Texan without reading the fine print. Now she lives halfway between Houston and Galveston and has learned to embrace the humidity.