Over the years, when beginning writers come to me and say, “Do I have what it takes to be a writer? Am I gifted?” I always remember the night I followed my writing teacher out of class. I’d just read my first chapter of my first novel. Handwritten on yellow legal paper. I knew nothing of plotting, viewpoint, characterization or even manuscript format. I’d just signed up for a community class at the college and had dreams of hitting within months.
While we walked to her car, I asked her one question after another. I’m sure she was wondering if I could be some kind of writer/stalker by the time we reached her car. With the door open, I blurted out my last question. “Do you think I can be a writer? I mean a real writer.” She smiled (or at least I think she did for we were standing on a dark parking lot) and said, “If you work really, really hard you’ll make it.”
I danced back to my car thinking my writing teacher had seen something in me that meant I had what it takes to make it big. I was gifted. I followed her advice. I learned to type and use a computer. I wrote an hour or two a day. I read all the books on writing. I joined a critique group. I tried to learn to spell.
I pulled small amounts of time out of my day and tried to learn one thing each day. And at night, I dreamed of autographing. (I also dreamed of being thin, but that never worked) But, I was sure writing would. After all, my teacher believed I could do it. Months passed. Nothing
I didn’t see failure. I only decided I wasn’t working hard enough. I doubled my efforts. I worked three hours a day. I took my lunch so I could work during lunch and breaks. I subscribed to writer’s magazines and went to the library each month to read the ones I couldn’t afford. I entered contest. I tried harder to learn to spell. Nothing.
I still didn’t see failure. (I did however lower my goal from making a million to being able to make enough to pay postage and fees on all the contests I entered.) I could still hear my teacher’s advice, “If you work really, really hard.”
I pushed writing time into hours I should have been sleeping. I entered more contest. I scraped together enough money to attend two conferences a year. I rewrote so many times I wanted to kill most of my characters. I wrote openings to book after book trying to develop hooks. I read in the fields I was trying to break into. I bought used books by the big names and outlined them. I tried to learn to spell.
Finally, the money began to come in. Ten dollars for a short article. Five for a poem. Twenty for third place.
I pushed harder, using my newfound wealth to prim the pump. I bought more books on writing. I attended more conferences. I asked so many questions I’m surprised they didn’t ban me from attending. I drove miles to take writers to lunch so I could find out how they did it.
But, most of all I worked really, really hard. One day in the teacher’s lounge when I was sleeping between classes, someone asked me, “Jodi, you’re killing yourself. What are you trying to do?” I wanted to say, “I’m gifted. My talent’s gold, but no one knows and if I don’t mine it, no one will ever know. Mining is hard work, so I’ve got to work really, really hard.”
I didn’t listen when people kindly told me I was wasting my time. I did give up on spelling however and decided to just trust spell check.
Then, one day, it happened. After years of study and work I sold a book. In fact, I sold five in fifteen months and from then on I sold as fast as I could write.
Now, twenty years and 30 books later I’ve been on the New York Times and USAToday’s lists. I’ve won three RITA’s and am a member of RWA’s hall of fame. The walls of my office on the university where I am writer-in-residence are lined with awards and my book covers.
It surprises me sometimes when people come to visit and say, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be gifted. I wish I had such a talent.”
They have no idea. I’m not gifted at all, or lucky. I stumbled hundreds of times. For every award there are a dozen contests where I didn’t place. For every book that sees daylight, there are at least four drafts still hiding in the dark.
“So, what’s the secret?” the young writers ask as they follow me out of a lecture. “Do I have what it takes to be a writer?”
All I can say is an echo that ran through my brain for years when I was trying. “If you work really, really hard you can be a writer.”
As the second in my HARMONY SERIES comes out I believe SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY is one of the best books I’ve written. I enjoyed writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it.