A question I’m often asked is how long I’ve been writing and how I got started. The subject seems to fascinate non-writers. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t write. As a child I wrote stories and drew covers for them. When I was fourteen, I submitted a romantic short story to Redbook Magazine. I still have that form rejection. My next project was a book that took about a year off and on to complete. It was rejected, too.
After that I wrote sporadically, but not seriously. I married, had four babies, and didn’t get back to writing with a purpose until my youngest went to first grade. I started in the fall and wrote a book from beginning to end that school year. My mom and dad both read it. It was set during the forties, so they even helped with first-hand research. Trust me when I say this book deserved rejection. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. No plot, only external conflict. It was a story only a mother could love.
But I wrote more stories. A couple of contemporaries and then an ambitious 500 page historical set in Pennsylvania Dutch country. That was when I joined an RWA group started by a lovely Southern lady. The late Diane Wicker-Davis was the first published writer and “expert in the field” to ever read my work and give me feedback. She crossed out page after page with big red Xs and the words “nothing happening” in the margins. She did this critique on a holiday. In her precious spare time. Her honest opinion took the air out of my sails for weeks. And then I loved her for it. I still love her for it. She took time to explain the most basic things to me and to encourage me that I had a talent worth investing time and energy in. That book was HEAVEN CAN WAIT. I took her advice, rewrote it twice, and eventually it went on a shelf.
I dug into learning. My RWA chapter has always been a teaching chapter, and I learned so much from others and the great books we studied together. I’m a firm believer that what goes around comes around in our lifetime, and I’ve made it a point to share whatever I may have learned and to always encourage hopeful writers.
I’d improved and grown tremendously by the time I started a spin-off. I got an agent and RAIN SHADOW was my first sale. My editor looked at HEAVEN CAN WAIT and told me if I’d cut 100 pages, she would buy it, too, so that book made it to print in the end.
Exposing your writing that very first time can be an extremely difficult experience. You want desperately to know whether or not you can do this, but you’re terrified to learn that you can’t. You’ve poured your heart and soul into a project that, once it’s shared, will undoubtedly expose a very private, very vulnerable part of you.
We Fillies are as diverse in our personal stories as we are in our fiction. Sharing stories about our experiences is always fun and helps us to know each other better. To celebrate our first year as Official Fillies, I asked everyone to disclose a personal experience. I enjoyed their replies and I know you will too.
Here’s the request:
Share about the first time someone read something you’d written.
And here are the responses:
“The first person I ever told I was writing a book was my husband. He’s not a reader at all, and doesn’t ever read my books … well maybe one time. But I’d never find a more supportive encouraging soul who constantly has faith in me and believes in my talent. When I’d get rejected, he’d say, “They just don’t know what’s good.”
“I’m finding it not so unusual that I didn’t tell anyone about my writing, I see others kept quiet about their writing as well. For me, I didn’t want the pressure of friends and family asking me if I’d sold a book yet. I was venturing into scary new territory and didn’t know what I was in for. I wanted the freedom to learn and yearn without being scrutinized. I remember feeling, and I still feel like I hit the jackpot finding my passion and purpose in life. At times, I sympathize with those who haven’t experienced the thrilling excitement, chilling fear and challenge I face everyday at the computer.
“When I felt confident about my writing, I showed my dearest friend, childhood buddy, and maid of honor in my wedding, Allyson, my work. It was my first proposal to Harlequin, and she read the chapters and kept asking for more. I knew I could trust her with what was near and dear to my heart. She’s not a writer, but a reader of all genres and she LOVED the character I’d created in Lily from my story Lily Gets Her Man. Her encouragement helped me finish that story. It was our secret and Lord knows we’ve had many over the years. When Lily sold, she was the next person I called after telling my husband. She sent me a gorgeous “lily” bouquet and I’ll never forget her words of encouragement and support.”
“I’m a former newspaper writer and have been writing in print since I was sixteen. So writing a novel should be no sweat, right? Wrong in spades. I jumped into fiction late. My mindset was who, what, where and why. Just the facts, ma’am. I was comfortable as an observer.
“An author, particularly of romance novels, is not an observer. She/he cannot be an observer. They have to be a participant. They have to pour themselves into a book, which, of course, makes it highly personal. You expose yourself in ways you’ve never done before. Your emotions, your hopes, your failures, your periods of grief. When you write a book, it’s not just an object. It’s part of you, and rejection is a rejection of yourself.
“So when I wrote my first book, I did it in a closet. I told no one. I wrote it because I had an idea that wouldn’t stop haunting me, and I really had no intention or expectation of publishing. But when I finished it, I thought maybe I should try to do something with this. But I was terrified to let anyone view the places and parts of me that no one knew. I had no idea whether it was any good or not, whether the idea and characters would attract anyone but me. Then I heard of Romance Writers of America. I joined the local chapter because I heard there was a contest. Wow!. A way to have someone read my manuscript anonymously. No one knew me. I didn’t know anyone. I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of friends and family.
“To my shock, it won second place. Those judges became my friends and helped me along the rest of the way. I met the editor who bought my book at the next local conference. Both are reasons, I will always love Romance Writers of America.”
“I can’t remember a time when I haven’t shared my writing. As a very little girl I used to write poetry. It was pretty bad but it was funny. My Grandpa used to read my poems to his buddies at the pool hall. I was a minor celebrity (hey it was a small town). When I started writing seriously in my mid-thirties I belonged to a local writer’s group. We’d all read our stuff out loud. Some of the writers were already publishing. My efforts were well received and gave me the encouragement I needed to go on.”
“The first person I confided to about my writing aspirations was my mother. When I realized I was trying to write a book, I asked her bring me a bunch of the books she read *G*. Since she was reader, I asked if she’d look at something I’d started, and admitted I was trying to write a romance novel.
She agreed, and showed up at my door the next day in tears, and said, ” I didn’t know you could write like Danielle Steele!!” She has been my biggest supporter. When I was too shy to attend my first writer’s club meetings, she went with me to The California Writer’s Club and Romance Writer’s of America. And now that I’m published, she hasn’t missed a book signing!”
“I didn’t get the courage to let anyone read my work until I’d joined a critique group and worked up a degree of confidence–or should I say courage?!–to let someone read my manuscript.
“I wrote in supreme secrecy for years until I joined my local chapter, whose president invited me to join her critique group. I was incredibly honored–and terrified. But that first morning of critique convinced me I was where I needed, and wanted, to be. That critique group contained one of the Fillies–Cheryl! Before I began to read, they warned me it was “like dancing naked on the table.” And oh, they were right!! I was so scared to read that my hands literally shook, and I had to pause mid-way through my reading to take a drink of water. But I got through it, and if it was nauseatingly awful, no one had the heart to tell me so. In fact, they were all quite kind. I kept going and going until I was good enough to lead my own critique group. And I’ve been doing so for what? 18 years now?
“But if you’re looking for that first someone to read my manuscript, it was my mother. She was the one who handed me my first romance, FLAME AND THE FLOWER, so she knew I was hooked on them. I think she knew, too, that I was writing one, and when I finally gave her this behemoth of a manuscript, she read the whole thing and told me she really liked it. When we started talking about this and that in the book, I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice, and the pride, too. It meant so much to me. I guess if you can’t trust your mother, who can you trust, eh? :-)”
“It’s possible that the first time I ever let anyone read my writing was at a critique group gathering at Pam Crooks’s house. All I really remember is we were really short on time, and that Pam gave me some good advice about how to open a book. Other than that, not much came of it. First book I ever wrote.
“I was pretty reclusive about my work for a long time. I still love that book, although I have gained a lot of skill since then. It’s never been published but maybe someday.”
“I’ll never forget my first critique session. A group of writers met at an English teacher’s house here in town. I hadn’t been writing for very long and didn’t really know what to expect of critique. I wasn’t prepared for the devastating blow that came. One woman in particular seemed to take utter joy in ripping my story to shreds. She told me every single thing I was doing wrong in no uncertain terms. I left that meeting feeling lower than low. I didn’t see that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being a writer. I was ready to quit. It took quite a while to regain my confidence. The only thing that kept me from giving up was my husband’s faith in me. He told me I could do anything I wanted to and no one except myself could ever stop me. I’m glad I listened to him and kept plugging away.
“I learned a valuable lesson that night. Whenever I critique another person’s work, I put myself in their shoes. I take extra pains to make my comments constructive and word them in such a way so as not to destroy their self-esteem. I’d hate to know I caused a writer to stop writing.”
“My ninth-grade English teacher announced one day that she was going to read her favorite story from the ones we’d submitted. She didn’t say who wrote it–till the end–but as she started to read, I could feel my face turning really hot and my eyes watering. It was a short humorous story about me and my mom, and I never imagined anyone else would see it had any value. It did a lot for my confidence, especially when it got such a nice reaction from the rest of the class. That day opened my eyes to the possibility of being a writer. My teacher moved away after that year and we lost touch. I did dedicate one of my books to her, thinking maybe one day she would open it somewhere, and see herself being thanked.
“As for novel writing, I kept it all a big secret from everyone, including my husband. I started writing while on maternity leave with my newborn daughter. One day my husband came home, six months after I’d started writing, and asked how my day went. I finally blurted out that I was writing a novel. He dropped what he was doing, came over with a smile and a hug and said, “Wow.” He’s been my biggest supporter and always has something good to say about my writing. I know I’m lucky.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the Fillies and their early days of writing. I know you’re as glad as I am that each of the Fillies pursued her dream, because now we can read stories by ten of the hottest authors writing western romances today!