Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thoughts On Being A Writer

I was asked some questions by Bob Clary at the blog. Here are some thoughts I shared with him about why I write, what keeps me going, etc.:

I wrote my first book when I was in 7th grade. That book has never been published. I wrote it for the sheer joy of writing. When I began my actual writing career, it was in the late 70s. I wrote what I wrote because I wanted an alternative to what was already out there. Not that the romance novels I was reading were badly written, but as a feminist, I wanted role models of older, stronger and more career oriented heroines than I was seeing at the time. I never expected to actually be able to sell that first romance, but I did and it began a writing career that has spanned decades.

I kept writing, even though my degrees were in honors math and operations research, when my son was born with Down syndrome. I knew I wanted to give him as much time and attention as possible and writing would let me do that. Same when my daughter was born a few years later. By that time, I knew I could sell what I wrote. Even better, I could write stories about issues and emotions and challenges that mattered to me—and to a great many other women. It was the best of all possible worlds.

I'll admit my writing faltered after my divorce. There were a number of years after that when I didn't feel like writing romance—and my publisher had ended the line I wrote for anyway. Instead I focused on teaching writing classes and coaching fellow writers and wrote only for myself.

A little over a year ago, I was lucky enough to get back the rights to my back list books and I have been working on making those available again as both e-books and print on demand. I've also self-published April Kihlstrom's Book in a Week workbook (one of the classes I teach) and begun a series of books (Sophy's Story and Sophy Goes to Doggy Camp) for children, dog lovers and especially people like my 37 year old son who has Down syndrome

These self-published projects are dear to my heart and I wrote them because I care passionately about helping other writers find joy in writing and because I believe everyone—even those with special needs, like my son—ought to be able to have books they love and can read themselves.

In other words, my goal now is what it has always been—to help shape the world in which I live by what I choose to write. By that definition, I succeed whenever anyone reads any of my books—regardless of the level of financial success I may or may not have in any given year.

Writing is not a quick way to become rich—though for some authors it may work out that way. It is often hard work and requires persistence and a thick skin because there will ALWAYS be someone out there who doesn't like one's work. But I still love writing. I love knowing that what I say can touch hearts and open minds to new possibilities. I write because I have stories to tell and ideas I want to share with the world.

I would encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to write. At the same time, I would encourage them to know how they will support themselves in lean times—should those occur. There is no shame in doing other things to pay the bills—when that's what we need to do.

I would tell them to always, always, always focus on what they care about—to write what matters to them, to keep in mind what they want readers to walk away feeling and/or thinking and who they are trying to reach with their words.

I would encourage writers to understand this business requires persistence. Overnight success can take years or decades to achieve. Educate yourself about the business—there is more to know than ever before! If you go with a traditional publisher, read contracts carefully and understand what rights you are signing away. This is true even if you have an agent. Research publishers and agents carefully before you go with one. If you decide to self-publish, make sure you hire a good content editor and copyeditor and proofreader. Odds are you'll also need to hire someone to do covers for your book and perhaps to format it as well.

I believe that we writers create magic with the words we write. We touch hearts and open minds and some will make money—perhaps good money—doing so. IF we keep writing. IF we hold onto the joy we felt when we first began writing. IF we keep going even when it sometimes feels pointless. IF we hold onto what made us want to become writers in the first place. If we do all that, we can create magic.