Yesterday I wrote about the earlier part of my life, my husband and family. Today the focus is on my writing life.
Again, this topic is inspired by a college essay prompt that one of my students was writing on: interview yourself. Here’s the second part:
Tell me about your writing.
I began to write when my children were small when I took a creative non-fiction class at the University of Texas at Dallas. Ray had returned to school to finish his Bachelor’s and I began a second Master’s degree, this time in Literature. While there (for only a year due to our expanding business and family), I had a professor who was a great believer in my writing. She also suggested that I had a unique talent for imitation and might try my hand at writing romance novels. She had two friends (wives of college professors) who read romances, imitated the stories and were making great money as published authors. I decided to give it a try with Ray’s whole-hearted endorsement, and immediately began crafting a romance novel. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved the process. I submitted three chapters to Silhouette and received a handwritten letter from the senior editor. This had suggestions and criticisms. I was encouraged and kept writing. Ultimately, I stopped on that novel because I had to accept that this was not the type of fiction I wanted to write. But the hook was firmly set by that point. I knew I wanted to write fiction and creative nonfiction.
Since that time, I have had dozens of short fiction and memoir pieces published. Last year, a flash fiction story of mine was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (the Oscars of the Small Presses). That was very satisfying indeed. I have also written a 425-page memoir that I later changed to a novel. I am currently working on a second novel. I’ve blogged daily now for the past 4½ years and have a readership of around 800 people, many of whom encourage my continued writing. It’s been a few years since I took that first course at UTD.
7) What about your work as a writing coach?
That all came by accident. I took a job as a 4th grade teacher at a private school in West Hollywood that catered to the movie industry. After one happy year there, Ray and I concluded I had to find a job that made more money (I was receiving a beginning teacher’s salary and trying to live in Beverly Hills). I submitted my resignation for the upcoming school year, but I had several parents who immediately requested that I work with their children privately on writing. I agreed just for the summer. By fall, they begged me to continue working as a private writing coach for their children. That was fifteen years ago. Since that time, I have expanded to adults and online teaching. In other words, my passion for writing helped me to create a life where I could get paid to help others write. My kids were in school and I could work from home. A perfect situation for everyone. Being a writing coach is one of the happiest facets of my life. I was teaching imaginary students at the age of three so this is a very natural extension of a natural inclination. Plus, teaching writing makes me a better writer. I never ask my students to write anything I don’t also write myself. I believe writing is a vulnerable act and I am not going to ask students to lay themselves bare on the page unless I am willing to do the same thing. That brings an equality to the situation and mutual respect for how tough writing sometimes can be.
What are you goals and aspirations related to writing?
I saw an interview with Will Smith on CBS Sunday Morning this week in which he admits that when he started out, his aspiration was to become the most famous actor in the world. He offered up a quote about modest aspirations being a direct route to mediocrity. I hadn’t heard that one before but I can see the truth in it. So, of course, I want to be a world famous, critically acclaimed writer who eventually wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. I, along with every other writer I know, share that hope and dream. Whatever comes along that is in that positive direction – however modest in comparison – is also just fine with me.
I have come to learn that writing isn’t so much about aspiring as it is about actually sitting down and doing the work. The rest will come or not and that is beyond my control. But connecting with readers, articulating feelings that ring true to them and their own experiences, creating characters that are multi-faceted and frustratingly imperfect – these are my real goals related to my writing. I want a reader to come up to me and say, “You wrote about X and I knew exactly what you meant. It was as though you simply wrote down what I was feeling.” Believe it or not, I have already had that happen a few times from writings I’ve shared on my blog and, let me assure you, THAT is the best compliment I can ever receive as a writer. That is what motivates me to sit down and write every night. In hopes that if I dare to be honest enough with my own feelings, then someone reading what I’ve written will nod and said, “Yes, I know.”
Do you think your family is proud of you even though you have not yet had a best-selling book?
Of course, I know my family would love it if that dream would come true. They would love it for me because they have seen how hard I’ve work at writing and how diligent I have been with this lofty aspiration. However, I also know that they are proud of me right this minute with whatever modest success I have had. They know that I am a happier, more fulfilled person because of my writing and I believe that makes them happy, as well.
In addition, I believe that watching me strive for something that is so difficult to achieve (there are, after all, only a small fraction of writers in the world who actually make an excellent living as novelists) they have set their own dreams high. I think they have learned through watching my process that happiness is achieved in the pursuit of the dream, whether the actual dream comes to its ultimate fruition. I have watched my daughters pick very difficult fields of study – medicine and law – and have watched as they have done the work – the plowing through – that comes with setting high aims. I would like to think that they recognize that passion is the key element in whatever one does in life. Move in the direction of anything (besides drugs and alcohol) that makes you feel even a little bit better. Baby step towards happiness as it shows itself every day in life. One day you’ll wake up and realize it’s thirty years later and you have a lot of history now of doing what you decided you wanted to do so long ago. That is a good feeling, all on its own. It also makes for an interesting life.
Any last words?
I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to write. That is a gift in itself. So many people struggle just to put food on the table and have little time for anything as impractical as sitting and writing away in a notebook. I am aware that I am very lucky. I am also thrilled that I have found something that brings me so much pleasure. Writing augments every aspect of my life since I am always considering how I might translate my life experience onto the page. That adds a lot of spice to life.
Overall, I hope that I will trust that whatever I do with writing is just fine as it is. I don’t want to fret and worry over my writing or writing talent. That, I believe, is just time-wasting. Also, it is a surefire way not to sit down and do the work. Writing requires actually writing. As Ray Bradbury says, “Throw up on the page. You can clean it up afterwards.” That is my approach, pure and simple.