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So, You Want to Become a Writer

After participating in a book fest this weekend and rubbing elbows with published and non-published authors, and avid readers, I reflected upon the moment when I decided to become a writer. I was living in Estes Park, a mountain village nestled in a valley at 7500 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  I had just finished reading James Michener’s Centennial, a saga that fictionally describes the birth and expansion of the town and the region where I lived (and would call home for sixteen years). I’d followed up that experience by watching the movie Jerimiah Johnson, Robert Redford’s portrayal of a battle weary soldier who seeks a mountain man’s isolated lifestyle. The pairing of novel and movie inspired me to think, I should write a story like that. How hard can that be? I can do it.

Residing at altitude, I blamed the emergence of my brain’s creative side by shrugging and saying, “Must be the altitude and lack of oxygen.” Regardless, I began composing my epic novel, the one that would certainly inspire everyone to read it, right? Because I liked the young-man-coming-of-age-in-the-mountains theme, I loosely based my plot line around a backdated version of my own family’s history, then set to work, with the idea of bringing my character to the Estes valley in 1905, a year after the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (a.k.a. St. Louis World’s Fair).

About fifty pages in to my grand tale, I felt the need for feedback. One scene I’d written brought tears to my wife’s eyes. She assured me her reaction was wrought by pure emotion rather than the urge to throw up. Encouraged, I sent the same fifty pages to my father. The scene where he meets my mother drew his jokester response “Vas you dere, Charlie?” Knowing that I was definitely not there that night convinced me that I was on to something. I could write! Still, when compared to the books I was reading, my words and sentences lacked a certain pizzazz.

An ad in the local newspaper touted the benefits of participating in a basic writing class and lured me to attend. Sure enough, there were several things I hadn’t grasped from reading, or from secondary and post-secondary English classes. I guess thirty years in the automotive service industry didn’t boost my literary skills, either.

With the new writers’ tools I’d learned use to improve my wordy output, I proceeded with my novel but discovered that my focus now drifted to other outlets. Events in the news stimulated my mind to react and express my opinions via essays. Reliving old times with family and friends coaxed brief memoirs. After he’d read my tale’s first fifty pages, my father relinquished all his notes for the blockbuster he’d intended to write. The message that accompanied his plot outline indicated that I should be the one to bring his story to life. Geez Louise! Now I had a second project to complete.

Another newspaper ad for a Beginning Writers’ class that lasted more than one day hooked me again. Once a week for six weeks, I gathered with like-minded folks of assorted ages and talents. Together we learned from a lady who knew her stuff, loved her craft, and wanted to share her knowledge and passion for words with others. That initial class led to another, and another, and another until our mentor landed a three-book deal with a major publishing house and could no longer conduct the sessions. During those many classes, a core group of students had formed, folks who came to realize that not only is writing a craft, but that we’d grown together both as writers and friends. Rather than allow that environment of learning, encouragement, and camaraderie to fade, four of us established a critique group and continued to support one another. Word of mouth drew other area writers to join us.  The influences from our mentor, her classes, and the writers group spawned from those classes inspired my writing to further expand and include short stories and poetry, as well as ideas for many more novels. It was a sad day when I moved east and left my dear friends and wonderful writers behind. Fortunately, I have been blessed to discover new writer friends near my current abode. Once more, I’m a member of a critique group composed of folks who share the same passion and joy from expressing words, plots, and characters.

The novel that inspired the writer within me to emerge has never seen fruition––maybe one day. In the meantime, two casts of fictional characters nudged it aside. A late-night one-liner motivated my 1950s private eye and his cohorts to appear in novel form. Events in the news prompted a series of short stories featuring my contemporary homicide detective and his crew, plus a novel in the works. To say creating these characters and plots was hard work would not be entirely true. When my characters spoke to me it was a blast. The words flowed from page to page, beginning to end. Each time the last line in the stories was reached, it was magic. But THE END didn’t live up to its implication.

Even best-selling authors don’t publish first drafts. Edits and rewrites and fixing the inevitable nasty typos are the norm. Although that phase has proven a tad annoying at times, exercising my writer skills and mixing it up with the characters I enjoy remains fun. Following several rewrite modifications, I feel confident in stating that I’ve completed my private-eye manuscript’s final draft. Now the real work begins––publication and promotion.

Because best-selling author status is a goal I have yet to attain, the next phase before shopping my novel to agents and/or publishers involves composing an irresistible query letter and a synopsis. The query letter didn’t prove to be a major headache, but I don’t know any author that enjoys having to condense their 80 – 90, 000 word manuscript into 1,000 words or less. That said, I took a deep breath, succumbed to the dread, and finally squashed my 87,000 word manuscript down to 782 words. By God, it can be done.

Since I made the decision to write years ago, I’ve produced a variety of work, had many pieces published in assorted venues, and traveled down the book publishing road. I’ve experienced success and rejection, met many fellow writers and wonderful people, and, yes, even hit the wall. Despite the dry spell, which, I’m told, many writers face, whether concentrating on my creative side or dealing with the business aspects, my writer’s journey to this point has been amazing. Yet, there are more adventures to relate and pursue, and people to meet along the way. As mentioned, I’ve had the good fortunate of connecting with a group of excellent writers once more, folks intent on sharing their work with the world. We continue to learn from one another as we strive to reach our goals.

Wish me luck, folks.

Agents and publishers, here I come.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

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