What I’ve Learned Thus Far…by Renée Bess

During the second half of my teaching career, I spent many moments daydreaming about becoming a writer. Those sixteen and a half years passed by, sometimes like a high speed train, other times like a caterpillar under anesthesia. No matter the pace, I continued to nurture the dream of becoming an author with the freedom to write for longer periods of time than the summer breaks provided me.

The thirty-three years I helped high school students master the rudiments of Spanish and French taught me more lessons than I can recount. For the past eleven years I’ve been transitioning to the writer’s life. Writing gives me more opportunities to be reflective than did teaching. (And that’s a shame. If ever there were a profession that would benefit from reflection, it’s teaching young people.)

Here are a few lessons related to writing/authoring that I’ve learned thus far.

• To be in the company of other writers, especially lesbian writers, is a joyous experience that never fails to remind me of my own high school years spent in Philadelphia’s only all-girls academic school. Mind you, no one was “out” in those days. Those of us who were attracted to girls weren’t even out to ourselves, but that’s a topic for another blog. When I attend writers’ conferences, like the annual GCLS Con., I sense the familiar. I feel I’m part of a homecoming.

• I have to promote my own work and not depend upon my publisher to do so. This is a difficult task, especially for those of us who are introverts. I force myself to approach bookstore owners/managers and request a signing event. I must write promo e-mails, keep up with the social networks, update my Goodreads dashboard, check in with the Yahoo reader and writer groups to which I belong, check out various authors’ blogs, and oh-if-I-have-a-chance-write-another-book. What’s that? Yes, I do believe in the existence of adult onset Attention Deficit Disorder. No, I don’t have time to take any meds for it.

At a signing!
At a signing!

• When I go to other authors’ events, inevitably I see, hear, or learn something I can incorporate in my next event. Sometimes I see, hear or learn something I won’t ever do. Once I witnessed an uber-successful mystery/crime writer fling Tasty-kakes at her audience. I couldn’t decide whether to duck or try to catch a pack of Butterscotch Krimpets, my favorite. During another event I sat next to a romance writer who offered each fan who approached her a piece of chocolate candy. She received sincere thank-you’s along with adoring glances. Needless to say, I’m more drawn to the second author’s modus operandi than to the first.

• Whenever I host a public reading/book signing event, I’ve learned to announce the presence of other authors I see in the audience and I urge folks to buy and read their books. I appreciate other writers’ support and I feel the least I can do to thank them is call attention to their work and to their being there.

• As much as I enjoy writing a first draft, it’s revising the story and tweaking the language that I really love. This second stage of crafting the book has me feeling like a jazz pianist poised above the keyboard, coaxing a gentle riff here, a different chord there. I want to play notes the reader has never heard before. I seek to create word tones the reader will remember and maybe hum after the story has ended.

Back in the day...
Back in the day…

• Sadly, I’ve come to learn the world of lesbian fiction writers and readers is as divided along racial and ethnic lines as are other parts of our world. There are book clubs, groups, and conferences that promulgate lesbian literature, and many of these organizations are racially polarized. Those that are not are only marginally desegregated. I’ve learned to respect the generations that follow mine, so I’m looking toward younger writers and readers and hoping they can see what I know, that well-written novels created by lesbian writers of all colors deserve a diverse readership.

• Sometimes I question my “writing purpose.” Do I create stories and characters simply because I can? Do I aspire to infuse my stories with socio-political messages? For whom do I write? Perhaps it’s my age, or maybe it is instinctive, but I’ve come to believe one of my purposes is to encourage others, to share what little I’ve learned, to whisper heads-up messages and offer a few “you can do it’s.” Some of us retire from the classroom but never leave our mentor role. I can accept that, dear readers.

Renée Bess is the author of Leave of Absense, Breaking Jaie, RE: Building Sasha, The Butterfly Moments, and The Rules. For more information about her books, please visit her website.

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  1. What a wonderful post! There were so many parts that resonated with me. The pace of time when waiting. ADD with all of the non-writing writer tasks. (I recently created a schedule for myself). The reality vs fantasy of how much time I’d spend writing after retirement when I had “all the time in the world.” The joys of joining the sisterhood. Thank you for this and for your encouragement to new authors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad the post resonated with you, Darla. Establishing a schedule sounds like a good idea. Best of luck to you. May you find a lot of joy during your writing career.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this, thank you. It’s shocking to me how much time I must spend daily marketing and maintaining when, of course, I’d rather be writing. Such is the life. If we want to be read, we have to reach out to those who read and build those bridges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are correct, Anne. We have to do a lot of bridge building. Writing blogs is one way to reach out readers. The writers who blog here at Women and Words owe a debt of gratitude to Andi Marquette and Jove Belle who established this site.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Anna, I remember meeting you at the first GCLS Conference (in Atlanta) I attended. You were kind and welcoming then and you’re still kind and welcoming. Thanks for reading the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great essay Renee! Enjoyed the flow of life. And sadly I agreed with the segregated writing/reading. What do we do to combat that?

    Thank you always for your encouraging words!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We continue to reach across borders and spread the message that human stories are just that…human stories. Skillful writing is skillful writing, no matter the race of the writer. We need to attend all sorts of writers’ conferences and participate on panels and give presentations. At the end of the day, readers are free to select whatever books they want to read, just as I am free to write the stories I want to tell. My hope is that my work is not relegated to a pile labeled “lesser than” simply because I am a writer of color. Your work should not be pre-judged for that reason either.

      Thanks for reading my essay, Kat.


  5. Thanks for sharing Renee. You were certainly an inspiration and a big help to me! I am still in shock about all the self-promotion that has to be done but I guess that’s all part of the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve done a lot so far to promote your first book (When I Was Your Girlfriend,) Nikki. I’ve been impressed by your efforts. Please keep writing.


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