I got the writing bug in second grade, after writing a poem that the teacher loved and asked me to read to the class. I still remember classmates’ encouraging comments on the playground afterward. Writing seemed pretty cool!
I majored in English in college and thought about becoming a novelist, but it seemed too uncertain a profession. Then I moved to Silicon Valley in the early days of the tech boom and became a technical writer. After over a decade of high tech, I traded in my steady paycheck to become a licensed therapist, which I love and still practice today.
While my love affair with writing never left, I wasn’t a very nurturing partner. Over the years, I started a few novels. I wrote the first few chapters of a couple of “self-help” books and the occasional magazine article when I was “in the mood.” Mostly, I didn’t write much – I was busy finding my place in the world. Besides, if I’m perfectly honest, writing wasn’t fun, and I was frustrated and depressed when I sat down to the page because I didn’t know how to finish writing a book. I could never figure out what came next in the story. The first chapters flowed, but I hit the wall and stopped writing. I expected it to be as easy as that first poem I wrote in second grade.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t ignore that niggling voice in the back of your head that says “write.” Especially when you have a friend looking out for you.
This friend knew of my interest/frustration in writing, and she knew that I even had an idea for a novel in mind. So she encouraged me to go with her to a writing class at Stanford University. At the time, I was sixty years old. I had no plan to become a novelist. But it sounded like a fun thing to do on a Saturday, so I said Yes.
My first Stanford instructor wrote, “Your subconscious knows more than you do” on the whiteboard. As a psychotherapist, this completely resonated with me. What she was saying was that I didn’t have to know what came next, that I could leave that up to my subconscious and ultimately to my characters. I excitedly thought, “Maybe THAT’S how I’m going to finish a novel!”
I jumped into writing with both feet. Over the next couple of years, I took other classes at Stanford. I took seminars and did something I hadn’t done since I was a child – I went to camp – a five-day writer’s camp. I bunked with a stranger, who became a friend. I learned new things, and I wrote.
One “hallelujah!” moment was learning about plotters and pantsers and discovering that I’m a pantser! No wonder I never knew what happened next! I never would, and now I felt freed from the quicksand!
I took a “Novel in a Year” class and finished a book. I revised and rewrote it. I sent it to beta readers and incorporated their wise comments. Friends and family read it, and I sent it to two professional editors. Everyone loved it except the agents.
After thirty rejections, a few agents were kind enough to send encouraging ideas, but with the last really nasty rejection, which included “I don’t like your main character, and I don’t like your writing,” I gave up. I put the manuscript “in the drawer” and returned to quilting!
But unlike in decades past, I couldn’t stop thinking about writing. I guess that when you finally nurture something, the niggling voice becomes more persistent and more demanding. And it brought me a new idea for a story.
It took me well over a year to write the novel, but by then, I had a group of people who would help me when I was stuck, or something didn’t work. I rewrote, revised, sent it out again for critique to editors, and finally had something I thought MIGHT work.
By then, I was in my mid-sixties and wondered if I wanted to go through the rejection process. I wondered if Indie was the way to go. But only briefly. Instead, I set myself a goal of one hundred rejections and began the tedious task of preparing queries and looking at agents’ wish lists — preparing for the day I would send out my queries.
Then, I began to hear horror stories from writers about their experiences with agents and ultimately not getting a book deal.
Several of my Sisters-in-Crime buddies had great success going Indie. They encouraged me to try, and after looking into it, I hired a marketing coach and a cover designer. I was advised to enter the intimidating world of self-promotion. I didn’t want to be on social media, set up and manage a website, or learn formatting software. Whatever it was, I resisted. And I routinely asked myself if I was too old. But I persisted even when I didn’t think I could ever learn how.
And as I could see seventy approaching a few stops down the tracks, I became an Indie writer. Amazingly, my novel, The Herbarium, sold well, had tons of great reviews, and wonderful comments from readers asking for a sequel. And as a side thrill, Tantor Media acquired the rights to the audiobook version. I received an advance and now have an “entertainment attorney.” The second book in the series, The Stone of Time, has just been published, and I’m working on the third. And maybe I’ll open the drawer and dust off the first novel!
If you are on the fence, think you are too old, don’t have the skills, or aren’t sure how to finish a novel, be true to that writer’s voice, no matter how small or fragile. After all, you are never too old to learn new tricks!!