I’m continuing the story of how I came to be a writer. It started with telling stories in my head, and then I finally realized I could write these stories down, but it didn’t really go anywhere for a long time. I came up with story ideas and wrote first chapters, but I didn’t truly write anything until I was out of college.
I’m not entirely certain what flipped the switch and made me get serious. I think part of it was that I hated my job so much. I’d compromised about what to study in college, going for something adjacent to what I really wanted but that seemed more practical, and I hated it but wouldn’t admit that, and then I couldn’t get a job in that field and ended up in a field adjacent to that, and I was miserable, so I decided that writing would be my escape. My first real step came when I saw a notice in the newspaper about a meeting of a writing group in my city, and I went to that meeting. The group actually wasn’t much. It was mostly a “little old ladies writing poetry about their gardens” group, but at one meeting they had a novelist speaking, and she mentioned a group she was in that would be meeting the following weekend, and that was what really launched me, while also sending me off down a detour, since her group was a romance writing group.
I’d never really been a fan of romance novels, though I liked love stories in other books, loved romantic comedy movies, and thought that meant I should like romance novels. And then there was that practical thing again. There were so very many romance novels being published, and some of those publishers didn’t require agents to submit, so I thought that might be an easier way to break in, and from there I might be able to get back to my real love, fantasy. At the time, though, I didn’t know the subtle but critical difference between “I like this but I think I could do it better” and “I don’t really like this, so I’ll write something sort of like it that I do like.” (I’ve written before about the issues I have with the romance genre and how it’s different from romantic comedy movies, and that’s a whole other post. Not that the romance genre is bad. It’s just not what I’m looking for.) I thought what was going on was the first, when it was really the second, so I went to the romance group meeting and ended up getting very involved in that organization and the national organization it was part of. That was where I learned all about what it took to write a novel, how plotting actually worked, how structure worked, and other stuff like that, as well as all about the business of publishing.
Probably because of joining that group, I ended up on a mailing list that meant I received a brochure for a writing conference being held at a university in my area. It was a huge investment for me at the time, but I decided to go for it. As part of your entry fee, you got two entries into the conference’s manuscript contest. I wanted to get the most for my money, so I put together an entry for a romance novel, and then dug up one of those fantasy story ideas I’d been playing with and turned that into an entry. At the conference, I met a real editor for a romance publisher, and she invited me to submit something to her. I wasn’t able to stay for the awards banquet because of another commitment, but I went home from the conference all excited to finish that romance book I’d started for the conference. Much to my surprise, I got a call at work the following Monday telling me I’d won the contest — but in the fantasy category. Still, I wrote that romance book, since I had an editor interested, and that was the first book I finished. She rejected it, but I later sold it to another publisher, and then later I did sell a couple of books to that first publisher. The fantasy book got shelved (I dug it out last year and am reworking it). I went to the same conference the following year, and I won the fantasy contest again.
You’d think I’d have gotten the message at that point, but I started selling romance books right after that second contest win. I must have some raw talent to have managed to pull off writing something that would sell when I didn’t actually like that kind of book and I was trying to write what I wanted those books to be, but it eventually became more and more difficult for me because my editors were asking for one thing and I was giving them another, and what they wanted wasn’t at all appealing to me. I spent years banging my head against that brick wall and not selling anything until I came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. and got my career back on track.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d been honest with myself a lot earlier. Getting involved in the romance writers organization wasn’t bad for me because I learned so much, and there wasn’t really any other organization offering that kind of training at that time. On the other hand, if I’d figured out that I was trying to succeed at something I didn’t actually like doing and had pivoted sooner to trying to do what I liked, then I might have had a lot less frustration. Oddly enough, that first book I sold was about a writer trying to write romances and realizing that she was a fantasy writer, so I must have known on some level, but I have this weird stubborn streak. Once I set off down a path, I’m bad about clinging to it and seeing it to the end, no matter how unhappy with it I am. Sometimes, that can be good, but it can also mean spending a lot of time on the wrong path. Most of my regrets in life involve things I stuck with for far too long instead of admitting to myself that I was unhappy and letting myself change course. Most of my course corrections have been forced by outside factors. For instance, in spite of having had the plan to leave my job to write all along, and in spite of having met all my milestones for savings to be able to do so, I didn’t leave the day job until I got laid off, and that forced me to get more serious about writing.
So, that’s how I came to be a novelist, going from reader to storyteller to dabbling writer to writer on the wrong path before I finally found my real niche. And who knows where I’ll go from here.