Years ago, I worked in corporate America and my client was married to Danielle Steel. When I found out who she was, I uttered seven ridiculous words: “I bet I could write a book.”
One of my colleagues called me on that boast and that’s how I became a writer – on a crazy dare. Having never written before, I tackled this challenge in the same way I tackled a marketing plan: by asking questions about how I would go about becoming a published author. In the old days, all I had to do was write a pitch and hope someone paid attention; these days all I have to know is how to upload to Amazon. But the business of publishing begged the question that was most important: how do I learn to actually write a book?
I decided I would learn the same way I learned to sew; I would follow a pattern.
With one of Danielle Steel’s books in hand, I spent three nights with that book, a glass of wine and a yellow marker. As I read, I highlighted the ‘seams’ of her work. My pattern consisted of noting:
I wrote for months and when I was done I had exactly the right number of pages, all the characters came in on cue, and the plot was revealed appropriately. What a yawn.
My book was the equivalent of making a shift dress out of burlap. It was technically correct but plain and unexciting. My book had nothing to make it memorable to a reader. I didn’t want to just go to the published-author party; I wanted readers’ heads to turn. I needed to learn what sets an artist apart from a painter, a fashion designer from a seamstress and a writer from an author. Bottom line: I needed some buttons and bows, some satin and lace. I needed some style.
I am writing my thirty-fifth book and I have learned a great deal, but I still follow the pattern I created years ago. I have grown as an author, found my voice, honed my observations and come to understand my personal style. I hope that someday a writer will take a yellow marker to one of my books and make a pattern of her own from my work. Then I hope she will be inspired to kick it all up a notch with her buttons and bows.
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There are only two times in my entire life that I have truly made a deeply thoughtful decision about how I want to live. Up until then, I sort of plucked choices out of the air. For instance:
I went to college far away from home (Chicago) because I had never been far away from home before.
I took the first job that came my way after college – working a switchboard at a big company – because it was offered to me.
That job slid me into an assistant position in a marketing firm when another person quit to get married.
A snowstorm drove me out of Chicago and back to California where I grew up. That really was more of a reaction than a decision. Have you ever lived through an Illinois winter?
Back home I got married (okay, that was a great decision).
I got my MBA because the company I worked for paid for it.
One day someone dared me to write a novel – something I had never imagined doing – and I did it because they dared me.
That was when I started making real life choices. I had found something I was passionate about (other than my husband). The challenge of writing, the flights of imagination, the nail biting wait to see if an editor would even look at my book created a thrill that I had never experienced before. After my first book was published, I chose to become a writer, an author, a novelist. I decided that I would be the best storyteller I could be and for over 30 years I have pursued that goal. I have had my ups – including best seller lists – and my rejection/bad review downs.
When A Slice of Orange asked me to pen a blog, I thought this would be the perfect place to talk about everything I have learned, about the everyday decision-making that comes with this career. I want to tell you what it’s really like to make a living as a novelist, how other people have done it and why there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to a writing career.
This will be a blog about permissions, and fun stuff, and objectives and questions and hard looks about the decisions authors make every day. This will be a blog about choosing how to proceed on your own terms.
The beauty of the Write Life is that it’s all about choice – yours, mine and ours.