What Makes A Writer
by Teri Hall
I started to write a guest post about my road to publication, but I realized it’s not like most other roads. I didn’t have a dream for many years of being a published author; in fact I still squirm a little at that moniker and just call myself a writer. I didn’t spend late nights or summer afternoons thinking about just how my writing life would be, how I’d lunch with my editor and laugh with my agent on the telephone. I didn’t wait endlessly to hear back from agent after agent or editor after editor.
For me, publication was my finished manuscript getting read by just the right agent and then by an editor who saw something in it, and voila—publication! (After, of course revision and copyedits and first page passes and cover versions and, well, you know. All of that stuff.) So instead of writing about my road to publication, I thought I would share what it’s like at the destination. That won’t be the same for many of us either, but I think my experience may mirror that of more writers than not.
I’m truly glad I got published, and I hope I keep getting published, but I think that many aspiring writers have an idea in their heads of what that’s like—that you spend your days in pajamas, pecking away at the latest masterpiece in a leisurely fashion, take time in the afternoon for a chat with your agent, answer your endless fan mail, arrange for the next tour’s wardrobe. Cash your checks as they come rolling in the door.
Not so much, at least for this writer.
I’ve never met my editor, let alone shared a lunch with her, though I have laughed with my agent on the telephone (and made him want to pull his hair out a few times, too). I’ve never been on a book tour or even been invited to one of the bookseller’s conventions. I write late into the night, after my full time day job. I fit deadlines in by not having a life for months at a time. My house is not as clean as I’d like it to be. My friends may not remember my name anymore.
I’m not famous. I’m not rich.
But, I do get to hear a class full of middle-schoolers explain what part of The Line made them scared, and what part made them think about whether they are brave or not. I do get to laugh when I hear them tell me what they think a sheep-cat looks like, or whether they would want one as a pet.
I also get to hear college students draw parallels between the police state in The Line and our own, changing country. I get to listen while they express their own interpretations of the messages they think The Line and Away hold.
I get to watch both groups of students think about how maybe they could get published, too. They look at me, and listen when I say that nobody ever told me I could be a writer, and they start to think. You can see the progression on their faces, the different stages of the idea, until finally they think “Hey! Maybe I could do that too!” And they could, or that’s what I tell them. They could, if they write a book. And get lucky.
When I say the words “write a book,” about half of them let the idea go, back to wherever it came from, because they know they won’t ever do it. Finishing a book is tougher than it sounds. But I can see a few with the spark still lit in their eyes. They might just do it! I can see how excited they are about the idea.
That’s when I remind them.
I write late into the night, after my full time day job. I fit deadlines in by not having a life for months at a time. My house is not as clean as I’d like it to be. My friends may not remember my name anymore.
I’m not famous. I’m not rich.
If their eyes are still shining after that, I know I’ve met some writers.