First Steps as a Writer


When I was in high school, back in the day, between August of 1976 and May of 1980, most girls read Seventeen magazine. By “read” I mean we looked at the pictures, but occasionally we read things, too. In among the ads for Bobbie Brooks clothing and Love’s Baby Soft perfume, there were actual articles. Sometimes there were even book reviews–usually for the sort of books girls took to the pool in case there were no boys around.

By my Senior year in high school I knew being a writer was among my career goals. I wrote awful stories about things with which I had no experience–the usual over-blown yet lackluster stuff beginners produce. Happily, none of those have survived. I wrote a few humorous pieces–mostly a series of letters written over one summer to a friend while I was in Chicago and he was in Kentucky that detailed the imaginary exploits of a friend’s son. I knew I could put decent words down on paper and that others did want to read them. I also did my first “channeling” of spoof-royalty in high school by writing a short, nightly “diary” of the Queen and Prince Philip. I still have a few of them and they are still pretty funny.

prepMy Freshman year in college featured two writing and literature courses. The first I did quite well in and had several selections from papers read aloud as examples in class [yes, GOOD examples!]. The second semester I took a topic I should have dropped after the first day–theater of the absurd. But, I was shy. That mean “drop & add” (as the process of dropping a class was known) was a social nightmare I could not endure. Instead I skipped class and got a lousy grade. It was in this course that a graduate student, who left class to make out in the hallway with another grad student, told me “You just can’t write.” Ouch. Part of me knew she was full of it, but another part clung to her words. In spite of her criticism,  continued writing humor–a series of posts scribbled on the white boards of my dorm floor that got me labeled “Miss Prep” and was a sort of spoof diary. Sadly, though I wrote them down, they are long since lost.

murderWHFast forward to that summer–the last one I would spend in my parent’s home. My Mom bought me, what else? Seventeen as well as Redbook and another woman’s magazine–maybe Good Housekeeping? I can’t remember. She encouraged me to write and submit pieces–she even bought me a copy of The Writer’s Market to help. In the nameless woman’s magazine I read Margaret Truman’s first novel, Murder in the White House. Inspired and still trying to ignore the grad student’s hurtful comments (funny, isn’t it? No clue what her name was, but I clearly remember everything about the first semester professor who read my work aloud!) I read the book in one sitting then penned a decent review of it. I fired the review of to, where else? Seventeen. I figured that, like my terrible stories, I’d get an instant rejection slip.

The envelope came at last. It was a normal letter-sized one. I guessed correctly there was no paperwork to sign for the review to be published. Instead, for a beginner, there was something better: A handwritten critique of my work by a nameless person at Seventeen. The words I recall are  “flair” and “style.” Yep. “flair” and “style” from the denizens of Seventeen! Me with lackluster hair and not a single Bobby Brooks item in my wardrobe! I had “flair and style.” Top that Miss Grad Student!

casino-royale-ian-flemingEmbolden I tried again with a review of a classic–this time of the James Bond books. Again I got another handwritten review, but this time with a notice saying they were hanging onto it. Finally, a few months later came the notice that they would not be using it.

Now, if this was a movie–or a Chick Lit novel–the third time would be a charm, right? Surely my third submission was snapped up by Seventeen?  Sorry, Charlie–no such luck. I did not write any more. I let the Grad Student’s words sink in. I put away the typewriter and didn’t write anything but student papers for years. At some point in the early 1990s I wrote a hopelessly bad novel that has since been destroyed. But, all along I clung to the idea that I was, TOO, meant to be a writer. Blogging gave me a new start. It was ta chance at disciplined writing. But I gave up on that, too. Life was too perfect among Mom-bloggers and I was a working single Mom. Not much “perfect” in those years.

Fast forward to today. Today I simply AM a writer. I can even now say “I’m published.” Never mind that currently that refers to two book reviews in an obscure library journal and a one paragraph article about my Peace Corps service–they are PUBLISHED. It’s a start. Now I am building momentum for my real career as a writer. I may be older than Helen Hooven Santmeyr (think the Grandma Moses of author’s) when my book(s) finally come out, but I’m in here working daily.

On this blog, by clicking on the page links, you can learn more about my works in progress: Amberleigh, Meat, Potatoes and Pie: A Midwestern Love Story, and the Engagement of Eddy and May as well as the ongoing serial “‘Milla’s Diary.”

roadmapIf you are trying to re-invent yourself or at least reinvent your career, I highly recommend Claire Cook’s Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention. I am reading it slowly–each time I need encouragement I’ve read a few more chapters and each time I’ve come away ready to tackle more of my personal re-invention. It really doesn’t matter what your goal is, Claire’s examples and encouragement will help you get there.

Why not leave me a comment with your own re-invention plans?


3 thoughts on “First Steps as a Writer

  1. sjbraun

    Somehow I just now found this — how interesting! That darn grad student at IU 😦 Things said to us in our younger years do tend to stick with us. I’m glad you remembered the good along with the not-so. Loved your stories about submitting stuff to Seventeen! It was a different era for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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