Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Writing Journey - Three Lessons I've Learned

Sharon Randall & Me
“My stories run up and bite me on the leg. I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” Ray Bradbury

Don’t you just love Ray Bradbury quotes?

I’m often asked how I became a published writer. I used to wonder the same thing about writers, as if some mystery existed only an elite few were privy to. 
I wrote sporadically as a hobby for years. I could never quite figure out the publishing game, nor did I have the time. With the invention of the Internet and home computers, publication seemed possible. My dream, like many writers, was to write a novel. 
I’ll share a quick overview of my writing journey and three important lessons I learned in the process.
Ø  Walk through open doors, even if they’re not in your genre or master plan.
In the summer of 2006, I noticed a murder-mystery writing contest in my local newspaper already in progress. It was a once-a-month feature for a year. After reading the sixth installment, I thought, “I can do this.” So I wrote a 1,000-word chapter and submitted it. I was so used to rejection letters, I was flabbergasted when the feature editor called to tell me I had won. I had enough forethought to ask if I were eligible to enter again. Sure, go ahead, was her reply. Much to my surprise, I won the next five months. 
The following spring, I wrote an op-ed piece for the newspaper about a debacle involving a development project practically in my backyard. A developer had purchased the lot to remove its large berm because he needed the dirt for another project. His plan then was to market the bulldozed lot as build-to-suit. An unsightly crater remained where a beautiful hillside had once stood. My neighborhood had unsuccessfully fought the zoning change that allowed this to happen. My stance was—destroying natural resources to create build-to-suit lots does not constitute progress. 
I didn’t anticipate the hornets’ nest I would uncover by writing this piece. The newspaper had a call-in forum at that time, Straight Talk, where anyone could anonymously share opinions on different topics and then they were printed in the newspaper. I learned the lesson of having thick skin. I was labeled naïve, a tree hugger, anti-development, and accused of having a not-in-my-backyard mentality. Some folks wrote letters to the editor. It was suggested I move somewhere else that would suit me better since I obviously didn’t understand how this town works. Though these folks were in the minority on the subject, favorable support was drowned out by their voices.  
Another feature soon followed in the newspaper with a local middle school honors Science class debating both sides of the issue, which stirred up the Straight Talkers again. I was thrilled when my fifteen minutes of fame finally ended, and I could fade into obscurity once again.
Ø  Go where writers gather.
A few months later, I attended a charity function with speaker and award-winning columnist Sharon Randall. I love her nationally syndicated column because she’s from North Carolina and writes in a down-home relatable manner. I also was fairly certain representatives from the newspaper would be there. I had no game plan other than enjoy the evening, maybe get a moment to talk with Ms. Randall, and learn something about publishing. I waited until everyone else had gone through the reception line. While Ms. Randall and I were talking, the managing editor of the newspaper (who had been eavesdropping) walked up, extended his business card to me, and offered to let me freelance for the newspaper. He’d remembered me from the op-ed piece. I pretty sure I babbled something incoherent and thanked him. I began writing features for the newspaper soon after. 
Any time my local writing group hosted a published author for a workshop, I attended. I met Lynette Eason in 2008, when she was writing her fourth book for Love Inspired Suspense. She has now written twenty books. We became friends and her advice has helped me tremendously in my growth as a writer. I met Cecil Murphy and other published writers through local workshops, as well.
Ø  Resist “branding” yourself.
The newspaper features I wrote led to my first book-length ghostwriting opportunity, an autobiography for a local Christian singer/songwriter. This in turn led to another non-fiction ghostwriting opportunity, which I am writing now. 
So, I started with a dream of writing a novel. How has that worked out? I’ve completed two fiction manuscripts, one of which recently placed second in the national RWA Emily Contest. I anticipate having good news to share on this front in the future. 
Meanwhile, I’ve published three dozen articles, fiction, non-fiction, devotions, and of course, this blog for the past year. 
I hear writers say they only write in one genre. That’s fine, if you can’t muster up interest in other areas. However, be open to opportunities God may provide to sharpen your writing skills, build your writing credits, and create a network. 
When I reflect over the last six years and the wonderful path God wove, I couldn’t have planned that particular path myself. If I had insisted on writing only fiction, specifically a novel, likely it wouldn’t have succeeded. I needed the other writing experiences to hone my skills and build my writing credits. 
I could share so much more, but I’ve written enough for one post. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I hope you’ve gleaned some inspiration in your quest to become published. 
Do you have an anecdote to share about becoming published? I’d love to hear it.
God bless,
Laura

18 comments:

  1. I think that's some good advice. "Go where writer's gather" is one I just recently realized I need to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kristina. I'm glad you found the post helpful. I lean toward being an introvert, so it took me a while to embrace attending workshops and conferences. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you again.

      Delete
  2. Laura, my late husband was a planning and zoning attorney. The neighbors dislike for the positions he represented was intense. They even voted him off the school board because of the developers he represented. P&Z issues are very emotional. I know the relief you felt when the hornets disappeared. Congrats on your writing successes, and I know you'll have more to share. Blessings, Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kathy. Zoning/development issues can get intense. I don't have a problem with well-planned development. The bulldozed lot sits between our neighborhood and the highway and served as a protective berm. Six years later, it still sits empty and is an eyesore. It looks like a deserted mining site. Sorry your husband had to deal with those issues. I think people should be able to disagree without getting ugly. Apparently, others don't.

      Delete
  3. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I needed to hear this. Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed and confused. I feel as if I don't have enough time and that I am spinning my wheels.
    I know God is in control, but sometimes it seems this giant is too big!
    Thank you for reminding me that God works in many ways, not just one. I need to be open and embrace all opportunities.
    God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, TC. I didn't mention it, but one reason for being involved on several fronts is the little successes you experience as you're working on the bigger projects. Writers are artists and as creative beings, we need positive feedback to fuel our creativity and lessen our frustrations. Hang in there! God bless you.

      Delete
  4. Laura, thanks for a thoughtful, hope-inspiring post. I would add a thought that compliments yours -- pray open-mindedly. Several years ago I prayed, "Lord, help me to be published in other places." When an opportunity came that I wasn't expecting, I knew it was God's answer to my prayer, even though it wasn't what I expected. "Be flexible" needs to be the mantra of the free-lance writer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Lori. I've written about the importance of prayer in a Christian writer's life in previous posts. Thanks for mentioning it here again.

      Delete
  5. It was great hearing your writing history, Laura. It's apparent that God intended to use your gift and keep using it. Thanks for sharing and for linking up with Bible Love Notes. I pray that God will encourage you this week as you've encouraged other writers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Gail. I appreciate all the encouragement you give me. Hope your leg is better today! God bless you.

      Delete
  6. It is lovely to read you testimony re: being published and the history and hard work behind such.

    Also, thank you for the lovely comment you left on my blog today. You encouraged my heart.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Wendy. You have a cool blog. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you again. God bless.

      Delete
  7. Laura,
    Thanks for sharing some of your history as a writer. Both informative and encouraging!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Glenda. I'm glad you were encouraged! Always good to hear from you. God bless you.

      Delete
  8. Very informative! I tend to want to write, but until I entered the blogging world didn't enjoy marketing. I probably need to get together with other writers as you suggested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Esther. I don't enjoy the marketing aspect, either, but it's a necessary part of writing. God bless.

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Thanks, Paul. God bless you and your work.

      Delete