Becoming a Writer

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

When I was in second grade, I remember getting an assignment from Mrs. Wilson that required for us to write a fictional story with high stakes and in an unrealistic environment. If I remember correctly, it was briefly after reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Most kids wrote about superheroes or fairy tales…except for me.

I wrote about a haunted mansion. In the second grade.

My teacher was delighted. I think that’s when the writer in me was born.

My whole family is generation after generation of storytellers, particularly on my mom’s side. We would sit at family gatherings and listen to my grandparents talk about raising my aunts and uncles, or listen to the aunts and uncles talk about their childhood and growing up. I still maintain that my grandfather was the greatest storyteller of all time.

In my sophomore year of high school, I remember the burn in my cheeks when my English teacher, Mr. Thompson, mentioned that in my writing, my voice is clear as day. That he could hear me speak through the words. I might have wished to vanish into thin air at the time, but now, I remember it as one of those profound moments of someone telling me that what I was doing was not only good, but something for others to model their work after. At the time, I thought that my dream was to be an Elementary School teacher, like my mom, but I was woefully mistaken. I wouldn’t realize my true calling for another ten years or so, and even then, I was unsure if this was really what I wanted to do. Up until the first day I visited campus in Huntsville, Texas, I had no idea what my life had in store for me.

Then, everything changed.

I remember telling my grandparents that I wanted to write. I was never sure of the subject matter, but I knew that it was a need for my words to come tumbling out in an uncontrollable urge to tell them to the world. Finally, a couple years ago, I started my first book.

And let me tell you, it was terrible.

I shudder to think of the butchering it would get now, as it is. The story is flawed, the cliché character idiosyncrasies too generalized, and overall just a burning dumpster fire. It’s horrendous. If I could unwrite it, I could, but for now, it will dwell through the ages in a file on the computer where I am uncertain it will ever live to see the light of day.

I shelved the writing idea for a while after the spectacular failure of becoming the next greatest novelist, and moved on with life. Got married, moved into a home with my husband, and let the mundane matters of my life take precedence over the words. So they waited.

Then, at a wedding in Galveston, I was moved by the architecture of an ancient historic building that seemed to have a mind of its own. The spirits I felt in that building stirred something inside of me that had been asleep for a long while. The story came into my mind, timidly at first, then boldly and voraciously. I remember excitedly telling my husband, who was politely uninterested, but happy to see that the writing bug had bitten me again. I couldn’t wait to get started.

As soon as I could, I sat at the computer, ready to let the inspiration come pouring out. I was bursting at the seams, filled with the characters, certain it would happen this time.

And yet, for the second time, my words failed me.

I had never been so frustrated in my life. I had this grand story, full of twists and turns and dark secrets, ready to be devoured by readers, literally on the tips of my fingers, and nothing. Not. One. Letter.

Instead of allowing life to get in the way of writing, this time, I tried a different method, one that I really wish that I had done sooner. I knew I had to start the habit of writing, but how?

So, I started a business. I created AA Freelance Writing Co and knew that with the consistent need for work, I would have the reason to seek out writing jobs. I hungrily began trolling freelancer websites, took countless ghostwriting jobs for academic research, and edited paper after paper. The first “big” job I had was to write an online course (90 hours of work, assessments, units, and matched to educational standards for multiple states in the U.S.) and took the behemoth assignment and worked my ass off. There were days that my poor husband didn’t see me at all. There were even more days that he had to force me to get up from the computer, to eat, to drink, to get some fresh air out of the office.

Three months later, and it was done. At that point, I knew that I had what it took to become the writer I knew had been inside of me all along. I confidently signed up for a multitude of freelancing platforms and took a few more failures in stride (there are never a shortage of these, I promise you!) and kept searching for more work.

On one of these platforms, I happened upon an editor looking for someone to write nonfiction how-to books. If you’ve paid any attention to my website, you will see now that I’m a published author.

That didn’t happen overnight.

Writing books is hard. There are a million reasons not to, and usually, a million reasons more telling you why you shouldn’t write. I’ll tell you right now, these things you tell yourself are bullshit.

Also, your first book, like countless others, is likely a trailer full of crap. (If you’re the next Stephen King, though, maybe you’re the exception.) If English isn’t your first language, then you’re already stacking the odds against yourself, but again, there’s never going to be a possibility of success if you don’t put yourself out there.

If you’re in writing for the money, I hate to break it to you, but it’s not great. The vast majority of authors (no, not J.K. Rowling and King, but everyday joes like myself and countless others) make less than $6,000 a year on their work. There’s a reason why most books are unsuccessful: sometimes, they just don’t sell. Does that mean that you shouldn’t write?

Absolutely not.

My advice is this: ghostwriting is not glamorous, but it will give you consistent, honest feedback and you can really hone your trade. Copywriting is a little more difficult, especially without experience, but if you have the burning desire to write, then write. Take rejections in stride, as they come with the territory. For every ten proposals I’ve submitted, I typically will hear one reply back, and even then, it’s usually less than that.

Writing is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the person wanting to sleep on a bed of money. It’s for the vagabonds, the self-starters, and the storytellers, those that live and die by the magic of words. Most of us will never be famous starlets with our stories gracing the big screen or topping the bestseller lists, but yet, we still dare to dream. If you’re still struggling, still wondering if it’s going to be worth all the work and hours put into it, I leave you with the best advice I was ever given:

Just write the damn thing.

Get it out, work on it, and work on it some more. When you’re satisfied, give it to the world and accept the feedback, both the good and the bad. When you have writer’s block, take a break, then work through it. If you still have writer’s block, then read. Read the greatest stories of all time, and read some of the worst. Work on it again and again. And I assure you, eventually, you will get there.

Keep at it, and eventually, you will get to where you want to be. Until then, may the odds be in your favor.

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