Celebrating Readers, Writers and Late Bloomers

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You may have been writing forever. It’s possible that you can’t even remember when you started.

Or, like me (and the main character in that delightful children’s book), you might be a Leo the Late Bloomer.

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Maybe you were so curious about the world that you had a hard time deciding what you wanted to be. You went here and there, did this and that. Until, finally, you woke up one day and it struck you.

What you really wanted to be was a writer.

I missed all the signs. I kept a notebook with badly written stories when I was seven. At age nine, I begged for a toy printing press for Christmas (you know, the kind that required fixing rubber letters on that big old drum, one at a time?). Now I could see my stories ‘in print’!

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When I was eleven, I played reporter, following my older sister around with a tape recorder, badgering her with interview questions until she yelled, “Get lost!” and slammed her bedroom door.

I was a veritable reading monster, devouring books. When I trudged up the driveway after visiting the bookmobile on a Saturday, Mama said she couldn’t see a child, just a wobbly stack of walking books.

I was forbidden to bring them to the breakfast table, so I read the ingredients on the side of the Trix cereal box instead.

Corn syrup. Calcium carbonate. Trisodium phosphate.

Okay, it wasn’t the healthiest cereal, but it was the 60s.

Writing was calling me

I didn’t major in English lit or creative writing in college (the career cages for girls in the 60s were labeled nurse and teacher).

So it was that I became a teacher. During those years, my greatest joy was creating new lessons —the teacher’s guides were boring— while in my spare time I wrote for national teaching magazines.

When I figured it was time for a change, I quit teaching to accept a position as manager of grant writing for World Vision, a Los Angeles-based international humanitarian organization. I had written just one grant in my life, but I somehow convinced them to take a chance on me. That year, I learned how to write proposals to persuade CEOs to pay for water, health and agriculture projects to make life better for families in third world countries. And I traveled to sub-Sahara Africa as part of a  team to produce a TV special. A life-changing experience.

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I did grants consulting for a few years and then my husband Bob and I started a marketing business. I wrote copy for ads and brochures and, later, websites. Our marketing blog morphed into Cat’s Eye Writer when I became a blogging coach.

I dabbled in reporting, writing news stories for a business journal and articles for local magazines. Looking back, I think I engaged in every form of writing over the years, except maybe creating user guides for VCRs and microwave ovens. That I couldn’t have handled.

All the while, I was getting closer to my calling. I enrolled in the University of Washington Certificate Program in Writing for Children and tried my hand at writing middle grade novels. A few years later, after taking two courses in memoir writing, I found my true passion: creative nonfiction.

And that is where I am today.

But why do I write?

Not once, in this entire journey, did I stop to think about that question.

Until last week, when my friend Annika Hipple, travel writer extraordinaire and blogger at annikahipple.com, invited me to join a Writers’ Blog Hop. My task was to answer four questions about my writing journey on my own blog and then introduce two new writers who would do the same. (You can read Annika’s answers to the same questions on her blog.)

Next week, the two talented writers I invited, Courtney Cantrell and Diane Noble, will share their own journeys on their blogs.

Okay, so here are my answers to the Big Four Questions:

What am I working on right now?

For the last year, I have been working on my first full-length memoir (working title: Out Tonight). It is a story of two very different women—who happen to be mother and daughter. It’s also about rebirth and unconditional love. In between working on that manuscript, one of my stories, “A Wild Winter’s Eve,” won a creative nonfiction award and was published in the Amazon bestseller Seasons of Our Lives: Winter, an anthology put together by the editors of Women’s Memoirs.

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At this particular moment, I’m moving back and forth between writing my book and creating content for our business. As co-owner of bobWP.com, an online membership site to help people learn WordPress, I have written two ebooks: How to Write an Unforgettable Online Bio and Sticky Headlines: Secrets of the Copywriters.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think that it’s because I’m brilliant, witty and insightful. But then I look in the mirror and all I see is a slightly neurotic writer—full of equal parts of hope and fear, who understands that just putting her work out there is an act of courage in itself.

I would say that what makes my writing unique is my deep and abiding sense of humor. I like to turn the camera inward and am not afraid to make fun of myself. I think that I also write with a certain transparency that shows my memoir characters up close, flaws and all.

Past coaches have told me that my strengths are writing from a strong sense of place and illuminating my characters’ desires and motives through realistic dialogue.

Why do I write what I do?

I love writing memoirs for the same reason I love reading them. I am intrigued by the psychology of human behavior and I write creative nonfiction to understand myself better.

I like to read the stories of real people and I learn new things about myself every time I do.

I write my stories to connect with people and share the human experience, to help my readers navigate life— and live to tell about it. Because if they see that I made it through, they might feel that there is hope for them, too.

How does my writing process work?

In the fiction and creative nonfiction worlds, we call the two major writing approaches pantster and plotter. The pantster writes by the seat of her pants, letting it all out in a random way before thinking about organizing her story. The plotter is prone to planning: create a story outline and character sketches first; identify the story problem; set up the major conflicts and plot out the story climax— all before writing one word of the story.

I am a plotter, big-time. It took me three months to flesh out the story of my memoir in outline form, chapter by chapter. I arranged the scenes on notecards, with a brief description of the scene on the front and the purpose of the scene on the back.

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Because I greatly fear throwing out a scene only to find out that it was the best version after all, I have two files: Current Scenes and “Outtakes,” which are older drafts of scenes that I can revisit if I need to. It is comforting to know that they are there if I need them.

When I am finished with the entire draft, it goes back to the professional editor I am working with (the one I worked with to develop my story) to start the work of revisions. I have not reached the end of my first draft yet, but I am learning so much about the process that will prevent a lot of wheel spinning in my next project.

Now, a  word about my fellow Blog Hop writers. Meet the smart, prolific writers who are collaborating with me on this project. :

courtcanbioCourtney Cantrell writes novels, short fiction, and the occasional poem. Her published works include the paranormal fantasy trilogy Demons of Saltmarsh, as well as the epic fantasy series Legends of the Light-Walkers. She also blogs at courtcan.com, which contains vorpal unicorn morphing powers, writing advice, caffeine-infused ramblings on snail-keeping, and free short stories. At any given moment, as the meme says, Courtney might be attending the shenanigans. Most other moments, she lives in Oklahoma City with her husband, their toddler, and their cat. Courtney is partially composed of chocolate. Two of her favorite mottos are “created to create” and “write on your stars whatever you want.”

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Annika Hipple is a freelance writer, editor and photographer specializing in travel, adventure, environment, sustainability, and history. She has contributed to a wide range of magazines, newspapers, and online media both in the U.S. and overseas. In addition, she helps travel companies and nonprofit organizations tell their stories through newsletters, website content, and other materials. A lifelong traveler, she grew up bilingual and bicultural, with two countries (the United States and Sweden) to call home. She has ridden a camel in the Gobi, braved the winds at Cape Horn, snorkeled with sharks in the Galapagos, ventured into ancient Egyptian tombs, tracked cheetahs on foot in Namibia, camped on a beach in the Ecuadorian Amazon, tubed through a cave filled with glowworms in New Zealand, and stood face-to-face with the massive moai heads of Easter Island. She blogs her travel photography on her website, annikahipple.com, publishes the Scandinavia travel website RealScandinavia.com, and is currently developing other blogging projects related to sustainable travel and history. Alongside her creative endeavors, Annika leads trips throughout the world as a tour manager and guide for a variety of travel programs.

cropped-cropped-diane-noble-ps-41Award-winning novelist Diane Noble is known for writing strong female characters who face seemingly insurmountable odds with courage, spunk, and tenacity. A career novelist, she has written more than thirty books, including romantic suspense, mystery, and historical and contemporary fiction. Two of her novellas have been adapted to stage and performed in Oklahoma and Texas. Diane’s most recent historical series, Brides of Gabriel—Sister Wife and Betrayal—published by Harper Collins/Avon Inspire, follows female immigrants from England and Wales who travel west to become part of a new religion, are accused of apostasy, and forced to make heartbreaking life-or-death decisions. She is currently working on a three-book contemporary mystery series, The Professor and Mrs. Littlefield. Book One, The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, will release September 1, 2014. Though she love storytelling, Diane is equally passionate about the world outside the realm of her writer’s heart. She is an advocate for those who cannot help themselves—especially children—whether due to poverty, mental illness or physical disabilities. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and Parkinson’s Disease in 2007, she works to bring awareness to both. She recently took on a new role of caregiver for her husband, who suffered a massive stroke in 2013. Diane is a strong advocate for living each moment to its fullest, celebrating life as it is, and making sure you don’t miss out on moments of joy. You can follow Diane’s journey on her blog, Discovering Joy in Difficult Times, on Facebook, and on Twitter. A mom and grandmother, Diane lives in the southern California low desert with her husband and their two incredibly spoiled cats.

If you are writing full-time, did you take a twisted path to get there?

Have you always wanted to write?

When did your passion for storytelling begin?

 

Comments

  1. says

    Judy, as you know, my writing journey has taken its fair share of ups and downs and all arounds. It’s taken multiple hiatuses (is there actually a plural for hiatus?;), stalled, revved up, stalled and puttered along. I think I’ve hit all of those things at once right now, haha!

    My love of storytelling started at a very young age, prompted I’m sure by my love of reading. And because I didn’t speak English until I went to school (Finnish first), my love of the English language, grammar, spelling and structure were of great interest to me.

    Happy Blog Hopping:) Cheers! Kaarina

    • says

      Hey Kaarina,

      Such a strong connection between a love of reading and skill in writing. Even if I don’t consciously think about the ways authors tell their stories, I am impacted and I think I learn lessons to apply to my own writing. I am in awe of bicultural/bilingual people. Can you still speak Finnish? That is very cool.

      I think that you are describing a pretty typical writing journey when you speak of spurts (at least that has been true for me).

      Thanks for visiting. I enjoy your insightful comments.

      • says

        I understand Finnish really well, but I’m somewhat rusty in my use of it, so am a tad reticent to speak it. When my grandparents were alive, they spoke only Finn to me, and that kept me using it. Since they’re passing, I haven’t had much opportunity to speak it:(

        To ups and downs and all-arounds: the spurts keep us going:) Cheers! Kaarina

        • says

          What a gift you were given. When I taught English to immigrant kids, I used to love to watch them translate from English to Vietnamese for their parents at conference time. They were able to so quickly go back and forth between the two languages. And I had an interpreter in my bilingual classes who was one of the parents and he translated my English to Vietnamese, especially in the beginning when my students knew very little English. Great memories.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on writing, Judy. I love the image of you as a child looking like a walking stack of books. That sounds a lot like me, too. Thanks for joining me on this Blog Hop journey. It’s been so interesting to learn more about my writer friends and discover other writers I didn’t already know. I’m looking forward to reading your memoir when the times comes.

  3. says

    Annika,

    Yeah, my mother would say every week, “You’ll never read all those books before next Saturday.” But most weeks, I proved her wrong.

    I agree. Learning about everyone else’s unique journey has been great fun. Thanks for visiting the blog. :)

  4. Diane Noble says

    Judy, what a delight to read about your writer’s journey. I too love the image of the walking stack of books (and also agree with the reading-writing connection). My stacks came from my little hometown’s elementary school library and I hauled them home in shopping bags on either side of my bicycle handlebars. What a rich discovery of writers on this blog hop. I’m in awe of all as I read about their unique journeys, their passions, and their amazing experiences.

  5. says

    Diane,

    You were lucky to live close enough to your elementary school library. I was seven miles out in the country and had to catch the bus home at precisely the right time, so I depended on the bookmobile to feed my reading addiction. I can picture you on your bike, with your shopping bags! You are my hero, because I have yet to produce my own book and you have written so many.

    I agree. This Writers’ Blog Hop is introducing all of us to more writers. Thanks for visiting!

  6. says

    It is fun to read your story of how you came to discover you were a writer all along. While the precise details are different, I can see that I have traveled a similar road. Late bloomer is correct on so many levels and to be honest, all the major mileposts of my life seem to have occurred with a 5 to 10 year delay from everyone else of the same age. I imagine there is a book in that process as well, but right now I’m having too much fun just discovering my love for writing and my voice(s). Looking back, yes, the clues were there all along, but the major roadblock had always been, How do you make a living at that? At this point, who cares? Eventually it may pay off and I can abandon my “9 to 5″ for a shack on the beach, until then, I’m just trying to enjoy the blooming.

  7. says

    Steve,

    Nice to hear the perspective of someone who has also taken an uncommon path to this thing we call writing.

    And, yes, how do you make a living writing is a huge issue.

    You might enjoy the new venture of my friend Craig McBreen, Steve.It’s called The Art of Breaking Out (artofbreakingout.com) He is also on twitter: @AOBOBlogPodcast. You should check him out.

  8. says

    “I look in the mirror and all I see is a slightly neurotic writer—full of equal parts of hope and fear, who understands that just putting her work out there is an act of courage in itself.”

    Ah, Judy — you have such a way of putting into words the things that I think! And, like Winnie-the-Pooh, you have a habit of reminding me that I’m braver than I feel. ; ) I remember vividly how terrified I was the day my first book came out…and how terrified I was the day my fifth book came out. And I know how terrified I am at the thought of my sixth book coming out…hopefully late this year….

    *sigh* When the first book happened, I thought the fear and neurosis would pass and that someday I would greet these challenges and events with poise and aplomb. But no. I still get scared at the idea that my bleeding, shredded heart will be out there for all the world to read, even while I DESPERATELY HOPE that they will, indeed, read it! ;)

    So I still need these reminders. That writing is an act of courage. That editing is an act of courage. That publishing is an act of courage. That taking the critiques is an act of courage. That sitting down again to write the next book and the next one and the next is an act of courage.

    And that courage is never, ever the absence of fear.

    Thanks, Judy — for the unconscious empathy, for the encouragements, and the invitation to put myself out there once again. : )

  9. says

    Hey Courtney,

    Hearing this from an “old-timer” is heartening. I guess it’s a feeling that most us us have, no matter how many times we have published. Looking forward to hearing more about your book. Your SIXTH book. :)

  10. says

    Wow! What a journey. I too am a late bloomer and for some of the same reasons you mentioned. I just never recognised the signs, the idea of being a writer just wasn’t a notion that registered on the spectrum of possibilities. And so it took a while to figure out what now seems so obvious. You live and learn as they say. Your journey does sound pretty inspirational though I have to say, I can see how it will make a great memoir.

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