Friday, November 16, 2012

November Means Beginning by Jody Casella



Five years ago my family moved from Lexington KY to the central Ohio area. The transition was a big one for all of us--for my husband who was taking on bigger responsibilities at work, for our kids, then in 5th and 8th grade, and for me. Up to that point I'd been a gung ho soccer mom, an uber PTA volunteer, and a part time teacher. On the side I was also pursuing my dream to become a writer. Key words: on the side.

Sure, I went to a couple of writing conferences, I had a handful of stories published, and I wrote a few books (racking up a bunch of rejections) but when push came to shove, other obligations always took precedence over my writing.

Moving, though, got me thinking. Maybe this was my chance to put writing first. Did I want to be a writer or not?  And did I have the guts to really go all in?

We moved at the end of October and those first few days the answer appeared to be a solid No. I tooled around on auto pilot, unpacking and cleaning. I volunteered to help in my daughter's classroom. I researched what it would take to transfer my teaching certificate. Basically, I was already on track to follow the same course I'd always followed.

But that November I sprained my ankle, and for the next few weeks I was stuck with my leg propped up at home, in a town where I knew no one. That annoying injury ended up being just the psychic smack I needed to hobble off my familiar, safe road forever. I did three things at that point that set me in a totally new direction: I made the decision to quit teaching, I signed up to do NaNoWriMo, and I read the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

Quitting teaching was the hard one. The funny thing was I didn't want to be a teacher--had never wanted to be one, even though I liked teaching and loved my students. Deep down, though, it had always felt wrong. Teaching (even part-time) took me away from writing. It sapped whatever creativity and energy I had that I wasn't already giving to my own children. I knew all this deep down, but not having that teaching certificate to fall back on seemed an incredible a risk, a no going back moment. When I said it out loud, it was scary, but also freeing, like a weight slipping off my shoulders.

Nano's relentless pace and rigid deadline forced me to write every day. Which taught me that I could write every day. Up to that point I'd been a revise-as-you-go writer, smug in the belief that my first drafts were better than other people's first drafts. But honestly, where had that attitude gotten me? If I was going all in with my writing, then I needed to keep an open mind about different strategies, be willing to try new things, and quit thinking I was an expert.

The Artist's Way, while a tad of over-the-top New Agey, has lots of practical advice too. The most helpful for me: the suggestion to write what Cameron calls Morning Pages--journal entries you write first thing every morning to get the junk out of your head and set your writing day off right. That November I started my morning pages journal and it turned into a chronicle of the true beginning of my writing life.

Since then I've written five novels (four during subsequent Nanos), revising these and several other manuscripts multiple times. I got tons of rejections. There was even a point along the way when I thought the publishing thing probably wasn't going to happen. It depressed the heck out of me (and I griped and ruminated about it in my morning pages) but eventually I let the stuff I couldn't control go and decided to keep writing anyway.

Shortly after that epiphany I got my first book contract. The pieces of the deal began to gel together, fittingly enough, last year, during the month of November.













7 comments:

  1. I admire your courage and am trying not to feel like I need to break my ankle over here.

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    1. Ha ha, but just a sprain, Karrie. And probably not necessary for every person's psychic wake up call.

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    2. Yes, well, I would need to pay my bills for a while longer even if I sprained the ankle. I certainly can't go 7 and a half or 10 years without a paycheck. So I'll keep teaching part time, finish NaNoWriMo this month and give Cameron a go next month. I can't seem to stop writing or teaching or parenting so there you have it. My life feels like this lady's sometimes: http://www.kristinbairokeeffe.com/2012/09/19/writerhead-wednesday-featuring-marcia-aldrich/

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  2. I totally understand what you mean. I'm a teacher, and it takes up so much time. I spend more time writing lesson plans and comments on students' papers than I do writing fiction. And it does feel difficult to put writing first, even though I want to put writing first. So I admire you for dedicating yourself to what you want.

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    1. There are teachers who manage to write. And parents too. I have no idea HOW they do it. But it's possible. And there are always summers. And planning periods. (I did write my first novel that way.)

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  3. I taught college writing courses while in grad school. I know exactly how much work it is--grading those essays used to completely zap me! I also took an all-in plunge, deciding to work full-time on my writing after I got my master's. The path to publication was looooong, though--took 7 1/2 years to get that first acceptance!

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    1. 7 1/2 years sounds quick to me! Sometimes I wonder if I would've started all of this if I'd known how long it would actually take. This is one time when being a clueless dreamer worked in my favor!

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