2.07.2011

GUEST POST: On Being a "Real" Writer

By: Robyn Bradley

When did I know I wanted to be a writer? I can trace it back to Mrs. Shea’s fourth grade class when she gave us a short story assignment. As I sat at my desk drafting the piece, first in pencil and then rewriting it in ink, I knew. As I read it aloud to my classmates, I knew. As I proudly beamed at the three red stars Mrs. Shea put at the top, I knew.

But it was more than simply knowing I wanted to be a writer. In that brief moment in Mrs. Shea's class, I was a writer. There was something magical about the connection — pen to paper, me to my audience, my audience to me. I was hooked. I wanted to do this, to be this, for the rest of my life.

Of course, that little girl grew up and the child's vision did as well. At some point in my twenties, my dream morphed into a more mature aspiration: landing an agent and a book deal. Simply writing stories for an audience was a nice sentiment, but those other two things? Well. An agent and a book deal would make me a real writer.

So off I went. After a detour in radio, I did some freelancing, started my own copywriting business, and wrote and wrote. My work appeared a few times in small places you’ve probably never heard of. I received very encouraging rejection letters, personalized and welcoming from agents and editors alike. I even won a short story award. But that big prize — an agent, a book deal — never happened. I'd hear about people going the self-publishing route, but I knew that wouldn't satisfy my needs. How could it? To me, self-publishing was a last ditch effort to get published when you probably weren't worthy of it to begin with. And so I plowed on, the dream still there, but growing a little dimmer with each passing year.

Until recently.

This past summer, I was re-reading one of my all-time favorite writing books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In the section on publishing, Lamott borrows a quote from the movie Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsled team where the coach says, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”

In essence, Lamott explained, “being enough” has to start from within. I’d lost sight of that, thinking instant validation would come with the agent and book deal. But the truth is, it wouldn’t. Validation had occurred years before in fourth grade when I quietly and without much fanfare realized I already was a writer.

At the same time I had this epiphany, I'd just bought a Nook and started hearing about the success many self-published writers, like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking, were experiencing, thanks to this new digital age and the ease of self-publishing platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. And so I began to think, "Well, why not self-publish my stories to Kindles and Nooks and put them directly in my readers' hands? I might not have an agent's blessing or a publishing house backing me, but I believe in my stories."

Okay, so even typing that sounds a little, well, presumptuous. And I have a feeling those damn doubt monkeys who whisper in my ear at night will always try to mess with my inner validation. But whenever they do (and whenever anyone else does), that's when I'll take a deep breath and remember fourth grade and the moment I discovered this truth (even if I didn't fully appreciate it at the time): whether I self publish, traditionally publish, or sky-write my words across the deep blue yonder, I already am a real writer.

Robyn Bradley is a Copy Queen by Day and Novelist Ninja by night. She’d love to connect with you on Facebook and you can learn more about her on her website.

21 comments:

maine character said...

Just this minute I was reading a WD interview with Elizabeth Berg, and she echoes exactly what you've found.

There is something inside of a person that makes them be a writer in the first place. That’s a strong and true thing. The process of writing and creating and answering that very unique call inside yourself has nothing to do with agents and sales and all that stuff.

Congratulations on finding that core and sticking with it.

Misha said...

So true...

I might have to self-publish my story too... but I will keep my options open.

Good luck with your writing journey.

:-)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Writing is one of the current incarnations of the tribal storyteller. It's ingrained in certain people the same way as a call to be a doctor/healer; only the medium has changed. I think that's why accounts of "knowing" at a young age happen so often.

It's a part of us from the time we're born.

The Blue Lipstick Samurai said...

I have never heard a better descripting of writing than 'sky-writing my words into the deep blue yonder.'

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Jen said...

This is a great post. Beautifully said!

Em-Musing said...

Great post! Love your insight and determination. And Josin...love your insight too.

Em-Musing said...

OMG! Your trailer for A Touch of Charlotte was AWESOME! It gave me the chills.

LM Preston said...

Lovely post. Everyone's journey to accepting the fact that they are indeed a writer is different. A blogger who produces new/fresh content for an audience weekly is what? A Writer :-D in so many ways the written word is shared, but I don't believe we writer's really give ourselves credit for it. Some blogs have more readers than small newspapers, yet the writer doesn't consider themselves truly a writer - and why not? I do :-D

RobynBradley said...

@maine character -- I love Elizabeth Berg! Thanks for sharing that quote. (she has a great book in writing called "escaping into the open"-- check it out if you haven't).

@misha -- Thank you and I wish you success as well! (It took me a LONG time before I'd consider self-publishing. If you're thinking about it, check out this post by Joe Konrath: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/12/you-should-self-publish.html )

@josin - I agree...thanks for sharing that excellent insight.

@The Blue Lipstick Samurai (love that name, by the way!) Thank you.

@Jen -- Thanks so much for reading it! :)

@Em-Musing Thank you so much (and I'm glad you enjoyed the Charlotte trailer)

@LM Preston Totally with you! We writers need to shout it from the rooftops! :)

Thanks, Tahereh, for having me! :)

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great post. It's so true how our goals change as we pursue writing. First it's to finish a book, then get an agent, then get a book deal, then make the NYT bestseller list, then write another, more awesome book...

It's nice just to think that by writing we become writers.

Phil said...

Love this post, Robyn! I've got a similar story: 5th grade, supportive teacher, the thrill of knowing I could just make things up and people would sit still and listen.

I've also begun to consider self-publishing. Rather than leave those trunk novels in the trunk, why not put them out there while I continue to submit my latest attempts? Haven't made the leap yet, but examples such as yours are very encouraging...

Claudie A. said...

Love this post. I can't help but think this is an important reminder for all of us. Aiming for a book deal and an agent is great, but there'll always be something more we want.

We have to enjoy every little step along the way, and remember why we started doing this.

Julia Smith said...

My cousin, Julianne MacLean, who has 16 published books under her belt, just self-published on Kindle as E.V. Mitchell because even she couldn't sell the contemporary she'd written (outside of her normal genre.) So the self-publishing route is definitely a viable one!

RobynBradley said...

@Tracey I love this line: "It's nice just to think that by writing we become writers." Agreed! :)

@Phil Considering you'll likely have a gazillion novels by the end of this year, I'd say you should! :)

@Claudie -- absolutely, and that's something that can be a struggle for me at times (enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the destination)

@Julia That's so inspiring and encouraging! Thanks for sharing that.

Ghenet said...

Great post, Robyn! I love Bird by Bird and have found Anne Lamott's words to be super-inspiring.

Since I'm just starting out and still working on my first draft, I'm trying not to focus on the end goal of publication. Instead I'm trying to enjoy the process. Even though I don't have a finished book yet, I still consider myself to be a writer. I'm just a newbie!

I think it's great that you believe in your work because it's so important. I'm sure great things are in store for you!

Jennifer Jackson said...

So many feel if they haven't reached certain milestones that they're not a writer which saddens me.
I hope you do find an agent.

Nice post.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

I think everyone has different ideas on what a 'real writer' is. To me it's having a passtion to simply put words on paper and then wanting to see it in print. It also means wanting to share a story with others. As long as you enjoy what you're doing, that's what counts. Don't give up!

Leslie Rose said...

I am a 5th grade teacher, and it is important for all of us in education to stay aware of the lasting impact and hopefully inspiration, we have on our amazing students. Loved your post.

RobynBradley said...

@Ghenet -- Yes, you should ABSOLUTELY consider yourself a writer. Good luck getting the draft done.

@Jennifer -- Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. :)

@D.U.Okonkwo -- Totally agree: passion is key. And so is doing what you love.

@Leslie Rose -- Yay teachers! I think teaching is one of the most noble professions. Thank you for doing what you do.

Jess Belt Hipp said...

Robyn - Great post! A friend sent this to me, and said she thought I'd identify. I know you're a real writer b/c I read the passion in your stories and your copy bitch emails, all of which are insightful and full of personality. Keep bringing it!

RobynBradley said...

@Jess -- thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! And back at ya. :)

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