Over 80% of Americans want to write a book. The vast majority of writers – that is, people who regularly write with the intent to publish – don’t ever complete a manuscript. Of those who do, less than 25% of them will be traditionally published. According to one study, the average age of first publication for an author is 36 years old.
There’s a lot to argue about what is not included here, such as the impact of the self-publishing revolution; the race, gender, and class issues that prop up some groups unfairly, publishing them and ignoring others; the uneven value given to books over short stories, flash fiction, poetry, plays, and so on. Still, the facts remain that the hurdles are large and looming. Add in being a never-published wanna-be writer in your 40s who has two young children and little time, lacks sustained self-discipline when it comes to personal goals, and who has successfully subsumed any writing ambition for decades. That’s just to start with.
And so, that, or rather, this, is where I am and where I must start. See, the siren call to write has gotten too strong to deny. It’s still a surprise to me, but to deny it is impossible. For decades, I’d heard people say they can’t help but write. That you shouldn’t try to be a writer unless you feel this undeniable urge that makes you scribble away for hours and years on end. That made it simple: I didn’t feel that urge. A bookworm since I was little, I knew the power of books, I loved them like I love nothing else, but I never imagined writing one much less being a Writer. That was the narrative in my head for so many years. I could rest easy and say to others, oh I’m just not ambitious like that. I was a librarian, an archivist, a webmaster, an intermittent blogger. All jobs – great ones, don’t get me wrong – that danced around the real ambition that lay underneath. It seems painfully clear to me now.
I want to write. I want to be a writer. It feels bold to even type that out, future tense and all, but can you imagine, I made myself say it out loud a few times. Surely to some at this moment, I sound like a shrinking violet, but the thing is, when something matters a lot, you don’t say it cavalierly. This matters a lot to me, so I mutter it, I whisper it, and on the fourth or fifth audible try without a laugh at the absurdity of this all, it finally sounds like me, like the words aren’t rocks in my mouth.
The hope for a regular column is that I can share one individual’s example of the process of how to become a writer. Of course, part of the reason is to hold myself accountable so that I actually do what I know(/think) in my head I can do but have never done yet. Another large, larger even, reason though is that this is the kind of content I would spend a whole weekend rabbit-holing in the best way. Best-case scenario, it’s like a montage scene in a movie where the protagonist becomes a star athlete or gets an amazing life makeover. That’s the goal at least. Worst-case scenario, I crash and burn but at least I try and some writing will occur, like here, for example. That is no small thing. Really, it’s win-win really, as long as I try. Do I sound confident yet?
At times, in this column I will also discuss the practical aspects (caveat: as I’m learning them), such as tone, evaluating drafts, which tenses to consider and why, and how to figure out where to submit stories. The focus, of course, will be on speculative fiction, my own home in the literary universe and, I imagine, for LSQ readers as well. Beyond the practical though is the heart of the column. First: the whys of becoming a writer, the doubts, the encouragement, the rallying, and so on. Second: it’s not too late! It’s carpe diem time. You have to know that seeing lists called “Best 5 New Authors Under 35” or “It’s Not too Late to Start Writing in your 30s” doesn’t equate to a death knell of your own aspirations at age 40+, 50+, and beyond. Women must help each other by sharing these experiences and showing we are not alone in our dreams, our worries, and our realities. I’ve been keeping a list of older female debut authors for a decade now for exactly those reasons. It’s time for me to flesh out those inspirations and hopefully maybe even inspire others.
So, please join me as I invariably stumble around, trying to become a writer and, dare I say, a published speculative fiction author. Of course, this feels quite lofty at this point. It’s all possibilities and projects – all talk, really. I’ve been here many times before, in countless journals, and self-talk as I ride the bus or go to sleep. Nothing has ever happened much beyond that. I’m determined to make this time the real deal. This column today is the first step in holding myself accountable to truly become what I have wanted to be for a very long time. I’m excited and nervous as can be, but here goes. Wish me luck. Let’s go.
Homework: Write twenty minutes every day. Call them morning pages, freewriting, whatever. Just write, and write about whatever: story fragments, ramblings, frustrations, and half-remembered dreams. They are all acceptable and encouraged. Get comfortable with your own words.