Thursday, August 03, 2006

do you aspire to be a writer?

On Easter Sunday many years ago, my brother, a writer, brought me an article from the newspaper. He laid it on my dining room table and said, “You’ve got to call these people -- you’re working in a vacuum.”

I knew he was right. I’d been writing stories and submitting for a few years without any feedback or success. The year before my mother had given me a clipping about a local author, but I’d never called. Somehow reading about those published authors and their support group just didn’t sound like anything I was qualified for.

Several times in the weeks that followed, I read through that article about a romance author who was a semi-finalist in a national contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America: The Golden Heart. I’d never even heard of RWA before. The aspiring writer featured was president of an auspicious local chapter. She had a master’s degree in criminal justice and taught at a college! Each time I went to the phone to call the number printed in the article, I got cold feet and thought, “Who do I think I am?”

What do I think I’m doing? I don’t know anything about writing! I’d never taken a single writing class, never even met a real author besides my brother, and since he was my brother, he didn’t count. Who was I to even IMAGINE myself among a group of “real writers”?

Well, I finally swallowed the queasies, dialed the number, and -- wouldn’t you know -- I got an answering machine! Now you’ll have to realize that not a lot of people had answering machines in their homes at that time. Not like today when everyone has one.

I knew THEN -- when I got that recording -- that this woman was a professional. LOL
I did what any insecure beginner would do. I hung up.

A week later, I garnered my courage and called again, hoping for a real voice. No such luck. I learned afterward that this was her business line and she NEVER answered that line. I could have tried till I was blue and never heard a live voice.

But this time I left a message. Low and behold she called me back. And she sounded just like a real person! She explained the chapter and the meeting date and place and actually sounded quite glad to hear from me. Before we hung up I asked hesitantly, “Is everyone there a professional? I mean, I’m not a teacher or a college graduate or anything.” She assured me they were all people just like me.

And you know what? They were.

Since then I’ve served many positions in the chapter. And one of my favorites was president, because I’d get so many calls from hopeful writers who were asking themselves, “Who do I think I am?”

I love to meet and talk with beginners. I get letters from readers who’ve read my books and are themselves writing. I enjoy new blood in the chapter and in our critique groups. The uncertainties the new writers express are so familiar to me.

I understand those feelings because I’ve felt them all so deeply myself. With my first efforts I wanted so badly for someone to just TELL me if I could DO this thing or not. Just tell me that I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of being a writer. Just tell me and then I’ll quit banging my head against a wall. The frustrating part is that nobody can tell you whether or not you can do this.
“Can I do this?” is not really the question to be asking anyway. “AM I WILLING?” Is the real question.

If you’re actually writing, putting words on paper, you’re already a storyteller. The techniques can be learned. But -- are you willing to make the sacrifices?