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Beginning Writers

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Beginning writers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the literary world. They get no respect. When I first took pen and paper in hand, my family and friends reacted with mixed emotions. Many of them believed I was going through a stage of sorts like thumb sucking or bed wetting. Given time I would outgrow it.

My husband decided to humor me. "You're a wife, mother, teacher, and landlady. You don't have much time left for that kind of stuff, but take your best shot."

Indifference was a reaction, too. "I hear you're doing some writing," remarked my mother-in-law.

"Yes, I'm working on..."

"Have you seen the price of cantaloupes? It's outrageous."

A few people took my new interest seriously. Tom, a good friend and avid reader, was encouraging. I suppose it's his love for the written word and his secret desire to write that makes him different.

I started my writing venture as slowly and cautiously as a baby tests his wobbly legs for that first step. I enrolled in a writing course that offered one to one instruction. Knowing my work had to please only one person, gave me the courage I needed to begin. It was a valuable experience. I received the gentle prodding and endless encouragement needed in those early days. I also learned to handle rejection and criticism which I later found to be a large part of the writing business.

I wrote our school/community newsletter and edited one for a businessman whose products were records (yeah, that long ago!) and tropical fish. He "paid" me in LP's and black mollies. Friends asked me to compose complaint letters, thank-you notes, job proposals, PR material, and college composition assignments - all gratis work. They thought "freelance" had something to do with the compensation I was to receive at that point in my career.

As the months passed, more and more people discovered that I was writing or at least trying. It was a discouraging time because they asked questions like, "What have you sold? How much money have you made?" I regarded them as personal as, "What are your measurements?" Since I hadn't sold anything at that point, I'd ardently explain how difficult it is for a neophyte to break into print. From their facial expressions, it was evident they translated my explanations to, "I'm not published because my writing stinks." I rationalized that my first sale would change their attitudes so I wrote and submitted more material.

As so often happens with writers, I read a story in a children's magazine and thought, "I can write a story like that." I did and submitted it. Weeks went by and then came a reply. "We are holding your manuscript for future publication."

A year later I had my first byline and check. It's impossible to explain the thrill and satisfaction a writer feels the first time he sees his name and work in print. The success was doubly sweet for me because I hadn't finished my writing course and my instructor hadn't read the manuscript. I had done it all on my own.

At first I tried to keep the sale quiet, telling only my husband and a few close friends. I really didn't want to answer the questions I anticipated. The check's amount was the same size as one of my measurements and not the largest one at that. In time I used half of the money to buy extra copies of the magazine.

In my naivety, I thought people would finally accept me as a writer and not as a teacher, mother, or landlady that writes stuff. It was not to be. A teacher friend said, "Eleven more and you'll be a writer."

"What do you mean 'eleven more'?" I inquired.

"Oh, a person isn't really a writer until he's been published a dozen times."

To this day, I haven't determined how the occupation can be related to the selling units of donuts and eggs. Could it be that it takes twelve sales in order to realize a profit large enough to purchase a dozen of either?

Tom had flowers delivered to the school instead of my home. The attached card read, "I always thought you were good. Love Tom." Since most of the staff was unaware of the sale, the gift stirred the gossip pot. Instead of being described as talented and creative, the adjectives I longed to hear, I was labeled terribly indiscreet.

I couldn't even squeeze a little respect from the bank teller that cashed my check. "This is payment for my first magazine article," I said.

"Oh, how nice," she replied. "What magazine was it?"

"Playmate. It's a national publication," I added.

She wrinkled her nose then completed the transaction in silence. I imagined she was awe-struck that living, breathing writer stood at her window. As I left I heard her say to a co-worker, "She writes for a men's girlie magazine."

My children were impressed with my publication, but it didn't take much to excite them. I'd dazzle them all the time with my nickle-behind-the-ear magic. When my article was reprinted in a high caliber Australian magazine, my eight-year-old remarked, "That's really good, Mom. Little kids are reading my mom's story and I don't even know what state Australia is in!"

Ironically, the only people that respected me for what I was doing were editors. Nearly every rejection slip's greeting was "Dear Author."

I've checked the dictionary and the definition of "writer" is simply "a person who writes." There's no mention of money, a dozen articles, or a required number of books. I do think it should say something about attitude and guts, though. Using clips and income to determine a writer's success is fair, but they shouldn't be used to judge whether he is or isn't one.

I don't make much money, have a fat file of clips, or a bestseller on the lists. I do query, research, write, and edit. I study the market, read sample copies, and send for guidelines. I sit on a pile of rejected manuscripts instead of a desk chair and have "SASE" tattooed on my forearm. I AM A WRITER!



This post first appeared on The Balancing Pole, please read the originial post: here

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