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.
• 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.
• 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.