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Sunday, June 6, 2010

How Does One Become a Writer?

Whenever I do book readings or speaking events, I am often asked the following questions: How did you become a writer? And what did you have to do to get started?

I suppose the answer to that would be that I always wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. Writing for me was an outlet, an escape from the realities of a difficult home environment, and it was empowering to know that although I couldn’t control what was going on around me, I could certainly create worlds or situations of my own where I could determine the outcomes of the characters in my stories.

I kept all my writings in diaries, notebooks, letters, and school papers stored away in boxes I accumulated throughout the years. I never thought, however, that I could actually make a decent living as a writer, so I did what most people do when real life sets in and you have to do something that’s going to bring in some steady income that will help provide for a home and support a family. I became a teacher. My dreams of becoming a writer were tucked away in a small place in my mind and any time the idea of following my passion came up, I lightly brushed it aside as an afterthought with, “Yes, one of these days, I’ll get something published…”

When 911 came, I went through a deep depression, and once again, I dove into my world of writing, laying out a plot and incorporating experiences from my childhood, and those of women I knew, who had gone through similar events. I was slowly developing a novel that I originally began to use as a way to cope with my depression. At the time, I didn't know why I was going through it, but I suppose my mindset was that here the world could end, and I never fully realized my true purpose in life by following my real passion. I felt I had no legacy to leave behind and my life had been simply meaningless. Time passed and I continued to craft my novel at a turtle's pace, living with what I would call a bad case of ma┼łana syndrome (tomorrow syndrome).

Several years later, pregnant with my first child, I remember unpacking my box of writings, scanning through the stories I crafted. I still hadn't finished my novel, and I contemplated how much I would love to get published. My first husband at the time blurted, "You've been wanting to be a writer for a very long time and the only thing I see is that your box keeps getting bigger and bigger. One day, our child will find your box, read what you've written and say to you, "Mom, why didn't you do anything with your talent? How will you answer?"

I realized then that the only thing keeping me from getting anything in print was myself, and fear was the silent force that paralyzed my drive. I was afraid of failing at something I held so dear to me, and now I was going to transfer that fear of failure to my child, and I didn't like that one bit. Because of aside from the fact that I wanted this little person to say I was a great mom, I wanted my child to also say I was my kid's hero, because mom's can be heroes too. For personal reasons, I forgot to pursue my own dreams, and that was NOT the legacy I wanted to leave behind.

So I made a decision on that day that no matter what, I was going to do what it took to get my novel finished and attempt to get something published, despite the outcome. In whatever capacity I could, I would follow my passion and work at it every chance I got.

I subscribed to the Writer's Market website and did a search for magazines, publishers, etc for the type of genre I wrote. I believe it was through there that I found the Chicken Soup website info and read that there was a call for writer's to publish stories for their upcoming Chicken Soup for Latino Soul book. I dove into my box of writings and dug out two stories that I had written in college. I figured I would increase my chances if at least one of them was considered. In the meantime, I pressed on with my novel, and waited for a response.

Several months later, I received a congratulatory letter notifying me that both pieces had been published. I was ecstatic! That simple little first step I took to give it a shot, opened up an opportunity I never thought I'd get. That small success was what I needed to jump-start my career, and help me pursue my first love, and all because I faced the reality that I would no longer allow fear of rejection or failure to keep me from doing what I loved to do.

Shortly after that, I joined an online critique group called where I received some positive feedback on the novel I was working on. I subscribed to Writer's Digest to help me grow as a writer. I bought books from Writer's Market to help me learn the business and entered contests to try my skills.

It hasn't been easy, and the hours I spend are often long and painful, but when you're doing what you love to do, it doesn't feel like work at all. So if you're contemplating becoming a writer, my advice to you is to stop thinking... and start doing! Take every advantage you have to write and get your work into the hands of readers, whether its through a writing group, a blog, stories to publish in newspapers, or writing contests. Write down what it is that is holding you back, get rid of the excuses, and come up with a solution to your problem.

So what is it that is holding you back from doing what you love to do? Conquer that demon and pursue your passion in whatever capacity you can. You can DO IT!

JAX, Author of Heart of the Jaguar

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