Around the Words in 365 Days

This coming Saturday is my 41st birthday, which also means I’ve hit the one-year mark on my writing journey. It was on my 40th birthday that I finally decided that I was a writer. I jokingly refer to that moment as “The Best Midlife Crisis Ever.”

I’m not trying to minimize our craft or pretend you can just flip a switch and be a word-weaving superstar. But I had spent the previous 20 years saying “I want to be a writer.” It wasn’t until I decided to say “I am” instead of “I wannabe” that I actually started to write.

A lot has changed for me in that year. I am now both published and rejected. Instead of having a few fitful half-starts under my belt, I have several completed short stories and a novel in progress. I still have a semi-dreaded day job, and I still want to stomp my feet and cry when I get rejected. But in spite of that, so much has changed for the better in the year that I decided “I am.”

Below are 3 pivotal moments in my first year as a writer. I share them to remember them myself, but also for any encouragement and ideas they can offer to others on the same journey.

1. Going “Back to School”

In the spring,  I took an online course called “Creativity Training for Writers,” taught by author Eva Shaw. I wasn’t sure I was spending my money wisely. I have a ton of college coursework in creative writing under my belt. But in spite of a score of “As” in courses like feature writing, fiction writing and “the art of the essay,” I have always suffered long periods of succumbing to writer’s block. When I’m on I’m on, but when I’m off, the lights are out and nobody’s home. This course seemed like it might offer some needed advice on keeping the lights permanently ON.

It did that, and ever so much more. It was Eva’s suggestion that I polish an exercise I had submitted for class and enter it into the annual Writer’s Digest contest that gave me the confidence I needed to start putting my work out there. I took her advice, and once I had done so, submitting to smaller venues wasn’t quite so terrifying anymore.

2.  Discovering eFiction

Any fiction writer who says that their first acceptance wasn’t a pivotal moment in their career is probably a big fat liar. For me, it was no exception. When I opened an email from Doug Lance saying they’d love to publish my “A Wingding and A Prayer,” I squealed and did the clumsiest happy dance in the universe. Well, maybe not. I’m sure some of you other writers have your own clumsy happy dances too. For the most part, we aren’t a very graceful bunch, are we?

When you are a 40-something who has wanted to be a writer since you first learned the alphabet, there is something incredible about reading your own work on your Kindle. The magazine gave me that, but so much more as well. I have discovered so many other indie writers through my involvement with them. For authors who want to participate, eFiction is so much more than a place to submit your work. It is a community of writers who brainstorm novel ideas, workshop each other’s shorter pieces, and come together to proofread issues of the magazine.

As any publisher should, eFiction will only accept quality writing. But unlike so many others, the eFiction community truly wants to support authors who are working towards that level of quality.

If you’d like to give me a birthday present, check out eFiction. If you like what you see as much as I did, consider subscribing. If you write, consider visiting the author community and getting involved.

3. Getting Bucked By One Buck Horror

Unless you only self-publish, there’s no getting around the “R-word.” You’ll have to learn to deal with rejection at some point. I knew that, but it didn’t mean I had to like it.

I’ve always read just about anything I could get my hands on. But the stories that kept me up at night were always the weird and terrifying ones. Stephen King has been my hero since I was young enough to have my grandmother yank “Salem’s Lot” from my hands and tell me I was way too little to be reading that “scary shit.”

My college advisor used to say my writing reminded him of a young Erma Bombeck. But I didn’t want to be Erma and make you laugh at life’s trials and adventures. I wanted to be Stephen, drag you down into the sewers with Pennywise, and scare the piss out of you.

So when I got serious about writing, the first things to pour out of me were what I thought were creepy tales. Elevator ghosts. Demented grandmas. Evil arachnids.

The elevator ghost and the demented grandma weren’t half bad. But they were much longer than One Buck’s 3,000 word submission limit. I sent them the arachnids. The arachnids sucked. They said “no thanks.”

If I had been writing about mosquitoes or vampires, that might have been okay. But spiders aren’t supposed to suck.

So what in the hell could I have possibly learned from that, other than to avoid sending editors sub-par work?

First, I learned how to tell when my writing IS sub-par. I didn’t realize how sucky my spiders were until I read One Buck’s premiere issue and saw the stories that HAD made the cut. When I saw the difference in those tales and my own, I knew that my horror writing left a buttload to be desired.

What I learned from that isn’t that I’m a bad writer, only that I’m not the best horror writer. I may be weird, but I’m not creepy, chills-up-your-spine weird. I’m more of the odd, off-the-cuff, funny, sometimes borderline South Park variety weird.

When I write the funny, sometimes I shine. When I try to write the creepy, I’m on the average side of “needs work.” There’s no shame in that. Just because Stephen King is my hero doesn’t mean I won’t be a successful writer if I can’t be him. I don’t have to be Erma either. I have to learn how to be me.

Sounds like a simple lesson, but it took submitting to One Buck to learn it. I subscribed after they rejected me and enjoy the delicious creepitude they’ve given me in their first two issues. Then I put down my Kindle and go to work on my own thing.

I love spooky. I’m good at funny. So I’m putting it together in a novel about a dead naked Manwhore. He won’t give you icy chills of terror, but he might make you laugh. This was the year I learned to incorporate “writing what I’m good at” with “writing what I want to be good at.”

I could go on and on and on. There was starting this blog, several other stories, and The Life List Club. But if I had to pick just three, there they are.

Who would have thought birthdays in your 40s could be so much fun? I can’t wait to do this again next year, when I’m even further along on this writer’s adventure. In the meantime, what are some pivotal moments of discovery in your writing career?

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About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Fiction, Goal-Setting, Markets for Fiction Writers, Memoirs, Personal Development Mumbo-Jumbo Stuff, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Around the Words in 365 Days

  1. l'empress says:

    As I said, I’d rather be forty than…

  2. Stacy Green says:

    What a great post. This is my second year of writing, and I’m getting ready to query in a month or two. I’m scared to death, but I know rejections are a part of the game. And I also know my writing has improved a ton and will continue to do so as long as I keep at it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Congratulations on your writer’s journey. It is certainly a productive one on many levels. So many people go wonky on “crisis” birthdays (30, 40, 50–whatever the year is that scares them silly). You turned your “crisis” into a metamorphasis. I really admire that. Keep going!

  4. akamonsoon says:

    What an awesome realization to come to! Instead of getting upset about rejection you took this as an opportunity to really look at yourself and how to get where you want to be. That is huge!

    As a side note, I knew you had a birthday coming up this month. I hope you and Lee have something fun planned. Happy Birthday, my friend! Its been great to see you get back into being so passionate about writing this past year. 🙂

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks! This weekend we’ll probably just stay local, hit the pool and relax, which is plenty celebration for me. We are getting to the beach for a long weekend at the end of the month though, and I can’t wait! I haven’t been all summer!

  5. starzyia says:

    happy birthday, and so glad its been a worthwhile and wonderful year of writing. I would like to say though, that my happy dances are great! I am the best dancer! but I do suck at sports, so I’ll concede we are not the most graceful!

  6. writingsprint says:

    This is wonderfully inspiring. Thanks Hawley! As a 42-year-old who’s using postaday as an excuse to pick the pen back up, I can relate to what you’re going through. I admire your courage and attitude.

    To answer your question, as for pivotal moments of discovery… only a few that were good. The first was knowing that I wanted to write. The second was knowing that failure wasn’t the end of the world — and if anything, it was the beginning. The third was realizing that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. The fourth was putting down the pen, probably over ten years ago, because I was working at it too hard and needed to balance things up. Finally, last year I started writing regularly again, because I realized that not only do I like to write, I really *need* to write, to have it in my life, and to take it seriously (for lack of a better phrase).

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I know exactly what you mean about realizing that you “need” to write. Even if I am never published, I need to write to be the best person I can be. When I go long periods without writing, I am cranky, lazy, unhappy and frustrated. It is a part of who I am and what energizes me and keeps me going strong. Here’s to wonderfully wordy 40s for both of us : )!

  7. Madison Woods says:

    It was somewhere near 40 when I decided to really *be* a writer, too. For decades before that, I’d talked about being a writer and dabbled at being a writer, but some sort of switch did flip and I actually became a writer.

    I love the community of writers we are at eFiction, too, and even though it was my first publication, having my story in July’s issue felt very good 🙂

    • hawleywood40 says:

      eFiction is wonderful, isn’t it! If there is one thing that’s been missing in my life over the years (other than enough ambition) it has been a consistent and easily accessible writers community to share the adventure with – it has been great to have that!

  8. Marcia says:

    Belated Happy Birthday, Pam! What a great look back on the previous year! You’ve done well in stepping outside your comfort zone. That’s always a huge jump forward since it opens so many doors for you. 9 months ago, I read everything I could get my hands on that had relevance for me and followed the advice on building a platform. The advice worked for me. My blog is gaining in success daily, I’ve reached the saturation point for writing advice and am putting it into practice. Not published yet, but life events have slowed my progress somewhat. I’ll be back on track in about a month. I expect to finish my book and begin the process of self-publishing by the end of the year. So, like you, I feel I have some accomplishments under my belt this year. Congrats to you on yours!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Marcia! Congrats to you too – among your many successes, I definitely consider being one of the co-founders of the Life List Club a big one! It has been a wonderful motivator and support system for so many writers, and we’re just getting started : ).

  9. Happy Birthday!

    It took me about 15 years to commit to being a writer too. I’m so glad I did. It’s been a pretty lovely journey so far.

  10. Aurora says:

    Belated Birthday greetings and oh, how I understand writing what you write well and writing what you want… congrats on the blending, you do it so well. Alas, I have about 12 years on you, young lady, and am still as green behind the ears as trees before they became paper when it comes to writing. Thanks again for the inspiration on the “writer’s journey!” 🙂 A former writing instructor said, “just don’t stop.” A pivotal moment for me was in grade one when I saw the effect the Bobbsey Twins and Dick and Jane readers had on a class full of students. “I want to make books when I grow up!” I said. Have four done so far. None fit for more than campfire starter lol. But I told my mom, before we knew she was dying, I was writing the story of her life. I am but it is slow going. So glad to have you and all the other great writers on here keeping me “in the groove.”

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Slow and steady definitely wins the race : ). I’ll be your memoir of your mom is a wonderful read, and that your other books are fit for a lot more than campfire starter! I’m so glad you are one of the writers I’ve met through this blogging part of the writer’s journey!

  11. Reflections from an aging writer

    I started trying to create fiction in college in the 1960s. Reynolds Price was guest lecturer during one of my creative writing classes. I didn’t have much to show him, but he called the few paragraphs I gave him, “lovely.” But then he was a lovely Southern gentleman.

    I did that young man in Europe thing. Florence. Short stories. Very short. Some not bad.

    Best thing for me was I went to work for a newspaper whose publisher/editor wrote a wonderful column. I got into doing columns and editorials along with reporting and editing. Doing the column helped me find my writing voice.

    Ideas came. Longer pieces were tried. Nothing really worked. Everything seemed forced. In my 40s things finally started to click. I was up by 5 a.m. and my eight-year-old son was up, too, practicing the piano (Koji Attwood, google him). I’d write for two hours and go to work at the paper. Then you start to try and get published and query letters to agents, some interest, no cigar. I had an address for Walker Percy. I sent him a letter and the first two chapters of “The 41st Sermon.” “Reads fine. Send rest” he responded. I thought I might finally get a break. I waited and waited. Three months later I read his obit in the paper.

    Keep writing. New idea worth pursuing. Opening scene worth getting on paper. See where it might go. Characters get born and you wonder what will happen to them. Keep exploring.

    Writing conferences, small literary magazines, writers groups. None of it turned our right or helpful for me.

    Internet arrives. Easier to email queries. Web based magazines appear. Some accept my work. Got paid $150 for one story. Found a couple of agents, amateurs it turned out. And work and life and all that brought a long period in my life where I shoved the fiction aside with a “I tried. I couldn’t have written any better than I have.”

    Got laid off near 60. Freelance writing helped, not financially, but the ego. Interesting consulting work developed. Re-approached the whole effort of finding an agent. Nada.

    Could be self-delusional. Maybe my stuff is junk. Time to test myself with comedy. If you could make a reader laugh, you’ve succeeded. Had an opening scene idea and the damn thing almost wrote itself in three months. Never had anything come that fast. I have a novella that took me 30 years.

    Finally snared an agent. “Reminds me of Hiaasen.” Nice. Work got before editors at good houses. Close, but no cigar. Recession hits, Kindle happens, publishing business turned upside down.

    Never wanted to self-publish. Seemed like admitting defeat. Then the agent says a couple of editors urged self-publishing. Now they can use author-paid test marketing.

    So here I am. And now semi-retired so I have more time to pursue all this and plenty of completed works beside the agented one to promote. It actually feels pretty good that my stuff can find a home outside my file cabinet. Now it’s up to me to go out and find an audience for them. What a brave new world that is.

    I wonder how young writers do it now. I spent a lot of time with my writing and my ideas. Rereading, rethinking, rewriting. The internet is a huge distraction. Especially when you’re involved in self-promotion. To create, I need a lot of stare-off-into-space time. But now I bounce around websites and follow tweets and Facebook messages and blogs. Overload.

    Thanks for giving me your eye time.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thank you for posting this here, Randy! I loved reading about your experiences on the eFiction boards and am happy to have the chance to share them with others here : ). I find the internet both a blessing and a curse to my writing. I’d never be able to meet the writers I’ve met and share experiences, or find so many opportunities for potential publication, without social networking. But I’m the first to admit I often unintentionally sacrifice writing time to explore all that’s out here …

  12. Shonnie says:

    I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday. Congratulate you on your acceptance as a writer. To tell you thank you for sharing this with us, because it is motivational, and I will be back to read and reread this post. 🙂

  13. Thanks for the repost. I think it must be extremely difficult for young writers these days. At least I had to spend a lot of time inside myself. The internet can be a time suck. The other danger is pushing finished works out the door too early. You think they are finished, but sometimes a good wait shows you they are not. But if the desire to write is deep it becomes a need and needs have a way of being met.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      So true, Randy. I feel kind of lucky in that although so much is available to me now, I’m old enough not to feel that “rush rush rush.” If anything with me, I worry that I’ll wait to long to push things out the door – trying to perfect them to the point that I actually start chopping away at things that don’t need to be chopped. I do long for more time to spend inside myself. On an unrelated to writing but similar note, my coworkers and I were talking the other day about how different life is. Two of us in our 40s and one older than us were remembering how when we were in our 20s the first thing we did when we got home from school or work or fun was check the answering machine. If you had a certain person you’d hoped would call while you were out, that blinking red light brought such delicious anticipation! Our younger co-workers realized they’ve never really known that feeling, let alone seen that blinking red light. If your phone is in your pocket 24/7, you know that call you’re hoping for either did or didn’t come …

  14. And then I remember when I went to Italy on a cruise ship the first time in1968. I was 21. There was no communication on the ship. And the only way to communicate home from Italy was by mail or going to a place that offered phone booths for overseas calls. And no credit cards. Travellers checks. But I remember how free I felt! Ah, and to get a handwritten letter from a girl friend! I still have them. What treasures!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I so wished I’d kept all my old handwritten letters – they got lost along the way in my gazillion college moves. But even in the early 2000’s, I remember feeling so blissfully disconnected on a cruise ship because my cell phone wouldn’t work at sea and if I wanted to use the internet I had to pay for it, so I only did sporadic check-ins with home when I could. My parents have a cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania. There’s no internet connectivity and half the time when I’m there my cell is out of range. I love going there to go off the grid for a weekend when I can : ).

  15. I think alone time is so important. My wife has gotten used to me staring into space. Sometimes you have to turn the mind off so that it can work.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I so agree! I’m learning to use my treadmill time as my “zone out” time. Just because my feet have to move doesn’t mean my brain can’t go on auto-pilot : ).

  16. May I share a gloat? Heck, it’s also a marketing plug. Crazy About You is getting some really nice comments. You cannot know how rewarding these are for me. They come from people I don’t know from Adam. They come from people reacting to the writing. We are not complete strangers, however. The novel is set in Larned, KS, my old hometown of about 5,000 folks, so I am digitally going door-to-door in that town via Facebook. I ask them to befriend me (knock on the door) and if they do and open that door I give them a pitch and a 50 percent off code. It’s starting to work. Here’s the facebook link to Crazy About You

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Crazy-About-You/240475985984934

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Randy, I think that’s an awesome marketing strategy! Thanks for sharing. At some point I’d love to do a collection of short stories set in my family pub, and when that time comes my hometown and surrounding areas will definitely be my largest group of potential readers, so I really love the idea of this strategy. I am almost finished my summer marathon of reading the huge Song of Ice and Fire series (am halfway through book 4 of 5), but when that’s behind me I have a reading list I’m eagerly awaiting and Crazy About You has been added to it :).

  17. The Hook says:

    Thanks for a great share! Here’s to another forty-one years of greatness!

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