Dancing Naked on the Table

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:

Charlene Sands:

“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.”

Patricia Potter:

“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.”

Elizabeth Lane:

“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.”

Stacey Kayne

“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!”

Karen Kay:

“The first time I ever let someone read something I’d written was in high school. We all wrote a story anonymously, and then the entire sophomore class voted on which story they liked best. Mine was a science fiction story — that’s all I remember about it now. Anyway, it came in 2nd place. I remember being shocked that anyone else might like something that I wrote. It did encourage me, and I went on to write other stories, but it was this that really made me think about writing as a possible career.
As regards romance stories, the first story I ever wrote and let someone read was again a science fiction story, but with a strong romance. It was a short story. I let my ex read it, and his only comment was that there were too many sentences starting with “But”. No other comment or praise was ever given. At the time, it hurt and I never let him read my work again. However, as time has gone on, I have realized that not everyone knows instinctively how to critique a work so that one doesn’t kill the person’s creativity outright. It’s really a sort of art form. That understanding would have done much then. But it doesn’t matter anymore. What matters now is that my husband of 12 years, my darling Paul, loves my writing and is one of my biggest fans and supporters.”

Pam Crooks:

“Well, does the first time in letting someone ‘read’ what I wrote equate to the first time ‘reading’ what I wrote out loud?

“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? :-)”

Mary Connealy:

“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.”

Linda Broday:

“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.”

Kate Bridges:

“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.”

Yee haw!

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!

Website | + posts

Land of Dreams for Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/awe75qd
Colorado Courtship (Winter of Dreams) Anthology LIH 1/13
Visit me on the web: http://www.cherylstjohn.net/
From the Heart: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/

34 thoughts on “Dancing Naked on the Table”

  1. Lovely stories, each and every one!

    I started writing over 25yrs ago in 5-subject notebooks. No one knew but my husband at the time and he hated anything that took my attention away from him. I remember throwing everything in a huge metal trash can one time and telling him to burn it all but you can’t take it from here (pointing to my head and heart). Luckily he didn’t burn anything but I quit for a long time.

    As you can guess that marriage ended but my husband now (we’ve been together 19yrs) is very supportive. His response to a rejection? “Their loss” 🙂

    I recently started editing a romantic saga I’d written in long-hand back in 1989 – 1990 and comprised of 2 notebooks. I remember telling my mom “this is the one that’ll open the doors for me.” It’s typed up and on the computer but I haven’t fooled with it in several years and I never realized how bad the writing is.

    The plot is good but there’s major head hopping and very little sensory detail… It’s amazing how much I’ve grown and how now, after putting that book away for the last several years while getting my other stories out, I can see those things and have time to fix them and hopefully make this story shine.

    Say a prayer Ladies, cause I’m hoping to submit this one to a traditional house 🙂

    PamT

  2. I for one want to say thanks to all of you for continuing to do what you love to do,you make it so much fun for the rest of us to do what we love to do,READ!

  3. WOW! I loved reading all of this! I admire all you ladies so very much! Ya’ll have worked hard for what you’ve got…ya’ll deserve lots of praise and encouragement! Im so happy each of you decided to write-sure has made my reading experiences even more exciting! Im still working on reading some of your books-but..have no fear ..LOL-Im working hard and will one day be able to boast that I’ve read all of them!! 😉

  4. It’s very encouraging reading all your stories. It really shows that when you love doing something and are persistent – you live your dream.

    I admire writers, their creative spirit and most importantly their ability to tell a story. I can’t imagine my life without books, so I for one am grateful to all writers for having the guts and determination to put their stories down and share them with all of us.

  5. I loved reading these, too. It’s so interesting that we all were so vulnerable when we first showed the work to someone.

    I think the contest route is so appealing because it’s anonymous. I still think of a few unpublished works I entered into contests and now I cringe and CLING to the knowledge that the judges didn’t (hopefully) know who’d written that drivel.

    Writing is so hard to explain, so hard to reveal. People ask me how I could have done so much writing for so long and never mentioned it.
    But the truth is NOT mentioning it is easy. Forcing those words out of your mouth is extremely hard, “I’m writing a book.”

    So it’s easy to keep it secret.

  6. Pam, your story is an encouraging one, too! You’re right about not being able to erase the desire from our hearts.

    Mary, I have had to block out the fact that all the agenst and editors in the business read the most embarrassing stuff I could have sent. But hey, I outlasted nearly all of them, and few of the same ones are around anymore. LOL

    My friend Denise Lynn made a fun video for The Magic of Christmas! You can hear Carolyn and Vicki and I here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM2WaKslA0M

  7. Thank you so much for sharing with us. With out ladies like you we would such wonderful books out there to read.

  8. Thanks for sharing such personal stories. I admire all of you for sticking to your writing and keeping your dreams alive. I love all of your books so it was worth it!!!

    Cheryl, I really enjoyed your novella in The Magic of Christmas. (I read yours first.) It was so heartwarming I actually cried.

  9. I would like to thank you ladies for making our dreams come true. You all gives us our dreams and send us to places we have never been before. Thanks for sharing this with us and keep up the good work.

  10. What great stories that are uplifting and beautiful. Thanks for relating your hearts desires. It is wonderful.

  11. Wow! I loved reading all these! Thank you so much for sharing with all of us. And thank you for having the courage and determination to continue with your writing!

  12. Fillies, thanks for sharing your stories! I love hearing about how writers got their starts! So glad you each had someone supportive to give you a nudge at the right time so that now we can read your books!!

  13. Well, now that we’re PUBLISHED it’s easy to look back on that insecurity and shake our heads and ponder our tragic vulnerability…
    but back then, wow, very painful to step out into the (admittedly minimal) spotlight and say, “I’m a writer.”
    Dancing naked on a table about describes it.
    ALTHOUGH in all honesty, dancing naked on a table is way worse and well, that is one thing that, if I did such a thing, none of you would recover from.

  14. Thank you, ladies, for giving us this little glimpse into your beginnings as writers. It tugged at my heart to hear the tentative, insecure first steps. I am glad that you all took those first steps because I enjoy your writing so much!

  15. I love hearing how it all started. Such perserverance!! And support from others seems to be a key too!

  16. Fabulous post! And I loved seeing some of the older covers because it helped me to remember some of my favorite books that y’all have written. Although, there are several there that I missed.

  17. Wonderful post. It inspired me to write about my journey into writing and the first person to read my work on my blog today. Not published “yet,” but I can so relate to the trepidation each of you felt at sharing your writing with others for the first time. Each of your stories brought tears to my eyes cause those feelings are so close to the surface for me right now.

    My mom and sister are the only ones who’ve read anything I’ve written so far and even then…allowing them to read it was like trying to cut the umbiblical cord so they could look at my babies.

    I think it’s because I knew they would catch glimpses of me they might not know when they read my stories because I know I pour myself into them when I write.

    And Mary- you are so right- saying “I write novels” is one of the hardest things to say. I can say it to my family and friends, but my husband’s relatives? The first time I said it to one of my sister-in-laws I don’t really know all that well, I thought I might throw up. I was scared to death she’d look at me like I’d lost my mind. Instead, we had a wonderful discussion about not just my writing and goals, but also about favorite books and authors.

    It still hard though, since a lot of people I know think you have to be “published” to call yourself a writer. Publication helps, but its what’s at the heart of the matter…when you feel it in your bones, that desire to write so badly you can taste it, your heart pounds out the rhythm and you just know- you ARE a writer and it’s too deeply ingrained to give it up or think otherwise. You can’t.

    Thanks for sharing your beginnings with us today!

  18. Taryn, my advice would be not to tell casual acquaintances. Why not? Because you will get sick of hearing them ask, “Is that book published yet?” or “When can I buy that book?” like it’s something you can control and you’re just being a slacker not getting it done. CLose friends and family you can inform about how the business works at least, but only another writer knows the true angst of wanting something so badly.

  19. Like many others, I wrote my first story for a
    high school English class and made a good grade
    on it. Through the years, I also dabbled in a
    variety of poetry offerings, but focused mostly
    on haiku. I have had several poems “published”
    online. In 1977 I was offered a chance to write
    a neighborhood news column for our area paper. I
    jumped at the chance and wrote for them for eight
    years. I still have an idea floating around in
    the back of my mind that I once began building a story on, but I’ve never followed through on it.
    At my age, I probably never will!

    Pat Cochran

  20. 😀 Oh, I know…I get that enough from close friends and family. Other than my SIL, I haven’t really told too many others…well, hubby mentioned it to our tax guy, but that’s because he had questions about what would happen if/when I get published and how that would affect us when it comes time to file taxes. LOL

  21. Wonderful stories, Fillies! Before I sold a novel, a journalist friend said writing is like hanging your head out the window and shouting, “Okay, everyone. Now shoot!” Being a small town journalist, she heard everything–good, bad and wrong : ) Fiction’s a lot more fun!

  22. The stories of your roads to pubdom are so encouraging as are the people who first believed in your abilities.

    And, like many of you, my hubby is steadfast in his belief that I will be pubbed. Yes, it took nerve to show him my first 3 chapters, but I’ll never forget his encouragement when he put the papers down and said, ‘Well, don’t stop now…’

  23. Cheryl, I so loved reading about all of the starts of my favorite authors. I have been writing short little stories for my granchildren to find one day. I have written most of them from personal experiences. Never have nor do I plan to ever tackle a novel.

  24. Cheryl and fellow fillies,
    You all are living proof that writers are born, not made! I’ve loved every word of this post (and others). Bless you from sharing from the heart and encouraging us foals (well, this foal is almost 50 …)
    love ya all!

  25. Great stories… Must have been hard to let someone read your work, but know all of us read them and appreciate them, so I guess it was worth it!

  26. i guess barely your soul in writing is like dancing naked on table, hadnt evre thought of it that way

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