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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Birth of a Writer

At age ten I decided to be a writer. My friend and I were in our favorite reading spot, a small clearing in a wooded area with a blanket between us and a colony of ants. I hugged my just-finished book to my chest, watched wisps of clouds drift across the blue expanse of sky, and relived every precious moment of the story.

“I’d love to do this,” I said.

“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.

“Write stories. Books.”

I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then let’s do it. We’ll be famous.”

Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.

We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to Wayne State University in Detroit, a creative oasis inhabited by artists, dancers, musicians, and WRITERS. When I visited her, we’d put together some “appropriate” outfits and join a party where people loudly debated the merits of Joyce in one room and read original poetry in another. We were both so na├»ve, we had no idea that the blue haze hanging over these rooms was NOT from the incense.

What I didn’t know then, and took me too many years to learn, was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. (Or the blue haze) No publisher was ever going to be there to discover me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Underwood manual.

Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.

But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there's luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again. And then learning how to promote your work.

We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the ‘business’ of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.

I may never be as famous as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and wile away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.

And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.

Maryann Miller is a freelance writer and editor and her next book, Open Season, is coming out in December from Five Star, Cengage/Gale. It is a police-procedural mystery. Her romance, Play It Again, Sam, is an e-book from Uncial Press.


  1. Hi Maryann,

    Very interesting post today. I like reading about how the writers get their start. I took a minute to read the blurb about 'Open Season' on your website. Sounds like a very interesting story. What is the time period of the book?

  2. What a great post! I think many people want to write a book but get intimidated by that blank piece of paper. Lots of others have started many books but have never finished one. I think the secret they may not have figured out is that no one's muse is there always. Not every word will be inspired.

    Writing is a lot like being married. The giddy rush of romance will often be consumed by the day to day realities of life. But sometimes, in a 20 year plus marriage, that giddy rush still shows up - and it's amazing. Writing is like that. You do it every day and sometimes, inspiration hits like a freight train and when it does - it's a real rush.

    Thanks for the post. It made me think.

    Quacking Alone

  3. Karen, thanks for your kind words about Open Season. The book is set in present day, although the height of the racial tension and controversy over the use of deadly force was going on in the late 1980s.

  4. Mary Anne, I liked your comparison of writing to marriage. So true, and I had never thought of it that way before.

  5. Very inspiring post.

  6. When the writing "bug" hits, we just have to do it! We write because we love to create...and our desire to share what we do with others fuels our enthusiasm. I do this for me; because I enjoy it and the people I've met through writing!

  7. An excellent post. Very well written, giving me pause to think . . . why do I write? For money? For fame? I write simply because I love it.


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