Cheryl St.John Shares How She Got Started Writing

Today I’m responding to another of the most often asked questions writers hear:

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written in one form or another. As a child I wrote stories, drew the covers, and stapled them into mini-books. My first rejection came at age fourteen when I submitted a romantic short story to Redbook Magazine. I still have the form rejection. I was crushed.

I wrote long hand off and on after that, occasionally typing a story on my Grandma St.John’s manual typewriter. For years I pretty much dedicated myself to my family, and raised my four kids.

I used to read only horror, mystery and main stream novels, but I read a few Victoria Holts I’d received from the book club and found them appealing, yet somewhat unsatisfactory in some way I couldn’t define at the time. On a whim one day, while browsing the store shelves, I bought Lisa Gregory’s The Rainbow Season and LaVyrle Spencer’s Hummingbird. Imagine that out of all the books available, I chose two classic romances for my first taste of romance!

Needless to say, I was hooked from that day forward. I devoured everything either of those two authors ever wrote, and went on to Janelle Taylor, Jude Devereaux, Johanna Lindsey, Francine Rivers, and Kathleen Woodiwiss.


When my youngest daughter went to Kindergarten, I was lost without her. In retrospect, it was empty nest syndrome, but instead of having another baby, which many women do, I decided it was time to write the novel that would launch me to stardom.

Yeah, right.

All The Tender Tomorrows and Soft Summer Magic are still on a shelf in my closet, along with a few other manuscripts, and rightly so. Looking back on the manuscript preparation, the stories with no plot or conflict, and the volume of editors I sent them to is a humiliating, yet laughable experience. I can’t believe I did that! I was rejected by the best in the business. Repeatedly.

I wrote in a vacuum for years, reading outdated how-to books from the library and sending stuff out to anyone in The Writer’s Market that I hadn’t already pounced on.

My mom, who’s always been my biggest fan, even when I was producing crap, clipped an article about Diane Wicker Davis from the newspaper. An Avon writer, she and her husband had recently been stationed nearby. Diane had started an RWA chapter. I was impressed.

But not in that league! So I continued on my solitary way.

Then one day in 1989, by brother, who is also a writer, brought me the Sunday paper with an article about another local writer from the local RWA chapter. It took me weeks to get the courage to call that number. I was terrified that they’d all be professionals with history and journalism and English degrees, and here was little old clueless me, puttering along on my used Selectric. (I had upgraded – lol)

Well, I garnered all my bravado, attended a meeting, and discovered that though they were elementary teachers, criminal justice teachers, and newspaper reporters, many of the members were moms, and they were all regular people just like me. (Some would beg to differ that I’m regular, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Later, as the group grew and evolved, I served as program chairman, vice president, president, and PAN liaison of my local chapter, the greatest bunch of writers I could ever hope to know. They’ve become my critique partners, my teachers, my mentors, and my supporters, but most of all, my friends.

With the networking in RWA, the teaching and guidance of my local chapter, and a terrific agent who took me on and believed in me, I sold my first book in 1992. Rain Shadow was released as part of Harlequin Historical’s March Madness promotion in 1993, and my second book followed in October of that same year. After the sale of my third book, I quit my job as a merchandising artist and started writing full time.

This month Western Winter Wedding Bells is my 35th published book, and I have two more scheduled in June and July 2011 and a Christmas 2011 novella—contracted just yesterday—to write.

And that’s how I got started writing.

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33 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John Shares How She Got Started Writing”

  1. Cheryl, I have loved your books. Thanks so much for persevering!

    My first published piece was a recipe for Russian Tea in Seventeen magazine! It starts young, this urge to put words on paper and have others read them.

    This is the second article I have read today about writer resources and community. I am thinking I am getting prodded.

    Thanks again, Julie

  2. Cheryl, I love to know how writers got started, and your story is such fun to read and inspiring. My list of authors who I cut my teeth on in romance is about the same as yours. LaVyrle Spencer’s “Hummingbird” is absolutely beautiful, and I need to get it out and read it again. Of course, all of Kathleen Woodiwiss historicals were fabulous. I think “The Wolf and the Dove” was the very first historical romance I read. Love your post. 35 books in such a short span of time is wonderful, congrats! Hugs, Phyliss

  3. Cheryl, this is sooooooooo my story.

    Except the person I worked up the nerve to call about RWA was YOU!

    That was a long, long time ago.

    I can’t believe we’re both still standing. 🙂

  4. Cheryl, I definitely can relate to your struggle. Being in a writer’s group was very crucial to me. I seriously doubt I’d be published today if I hadn’t joined RWA and the local chapter. I learned so much. I was like a sponge, soaking up every morsel of advice and encouragement. And I applied (and still do) every bit of knowledge about my craft as I continue my writing journey.

    Love your drawing of the old, old west! Too funny. Big congrats too on the new Christmas novella contract! Woo-Hoo!

  5. Thank you for sharing your “path to publication.” It is encouraging to others and should help them not to be afraid to approach their local author groups for the support that will be so much help to them. I wish I had considered this route earlier in life. I know it is never too late to start, but I’m not sure how much of a market there is for geriatric romance. If nothing else, the group will be great company.
    I have enjoyed your books for years and look forward to reading many more.

  6. Hi, Cheryl. I loved hearing your story. And that artwork was wonderful! You had quite an eye for drawing those western ladies.

    Reminds me of the book I published with a cardboard cover in bright yellow wallpaper. The clever title was “The Great Ball of Purple” and the story was about a young female astronaut who discovered a new planet. But watch out for the One-eye-one-horn-flying-purple-people-eater. Can you guess where I got my inspiration for this 4th grade masterpiece? Ha!

    Thanks for sharing. Oh, and btw – I just picked up Western Winter Wedding Bells. Can’t wait to read it!

  7. Hi Julie – my first time in print was a picture I drew published in Jack and Jill magazine. A few years ago I found the issue on ebay and so I have it again. Pretty cool.

  8. Hey, Linda. I remember going to conferences and sitting through every last workshop and soaking it all in. I credit my mentors for eeking me along the route to publication: Barbara Andrews, Pam Hart, Diane Wicker Davis to name a few. The first stuff they ever read of mine was absolute drivel with no conflict or real plot and pages upon pages of nothing happening–but I was a good student and wanted nothing more than to be good enough to sell.

    Like you, I still take classes, read books and articles, and each year I work on a specific area of writing improvement.

  9. Cheryl, I am so glad you didn’t give up when you got that first rejection notice! I am currently reading Western Winter Wedding Bells, and enjoyed your story so much. I have very little imagination and I really admire all of you who do. Best wishes for continued success in the future.

  10. Thank you so much Patricia! As a matter of fact, one of my chapter mates,m Teryl Oswald has a humorous mystery series about senior citizens in a community. Her stories are populated with great characters and are surprisingly funny and fun to read.

  11. Thank you so much Patricia! As a matter of fact, one of my chapter mates, Teryl Oswald has a humorous mystery series about senior citizens in a community. Her stories are populated with great characters and are surprisingly funny and fun to read.

  12. Oh, Karen, verrrry funny! At that time you probably didn’t know there was a whole genre for romance in space. lol

    Thanks for picking up my new book! Charlene will send kisses too. SMOOOOOCH

    Thank you SO much Judy and thanks for finding the new anthology! Let me know how you like it.

  13. Not only is she an awesome writer, Cheryl truly believes in ‘paying it forward’ by mentoring other local writers in her group. 🙂

  14. Smooches, Sherri. I do believe what goes around comes around *and* I just plain enjoy seeing new writers learn and progress. It’s so rewarding to be even a teeny weeny part of another person’s journey–especially when they’re GOOD.

  15. Hi Cher, what a terrific account of your career. Wow, 35 books and still counting. You go, girl! Oh, and the best part: I love your books. Keep ’em coming. oxoxxo

  16. The first word that came to mind was perserverance. I’m sure you inspired many want to be’s out there. 35 is a very impressive number. I’ve enjoyed many of them!

  17. Thanks for sharing your story, Cheryl. Thirty-five books! I’m in awe. I also started writing very young. By the time I was ten I had a binder full of stories, mostly about horses. As far as romance goes, I’d read a total of two when I sat down and wrote one. When I finished, I printed out my MS and stared at it in disbelief. “I’ve written a romance. Now what do I do?”

    I joined RWA, and I can’t say enough about our local chapter. They are a bunch of amazing women and I don’t know what I’d do without their friendship, support and encouragement. Thank heaven for writing friends.

  18. I love this story. It is one that started with a dream, and realized through courage! You continue to generously give the help that helped you when you needed it. You’ll never know how grateful I am to call you ‘friend’.
    Love to you.

  19. i love your story
    thank you for sharing
    i just don’t picture good writers ever being bad writers (or at least–not wonderful)
    and i love it–the realness of it all
    woohoo to you for keeping on keeping on

    i used to think writing was a gift…but i’ve come to understand how much work has to go with that gift to make the magic

  20. …and on and on and on and on. I’d take up all your space with the number of writers you’ve helped!

  21. This is a great story. I started writing when I was in fourth grade and I just turned 47 a few weeks ago. Still working on the writing thing. Don’t you just love Lavryle Spencer? She made it seem so effortless. I’ve read everything she ever wrote. I bought your book just today and I’m looking forward to reading it.


  22. Thanks, Tanya and Catslady!

    I couldn’t agree more, Jennie.

    Love you too, Mary Karen. The writers I see succeed are those who are tenacious and eager to improve, You have the right stuff, girlfriend.

  23. Thanks, Estella.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, Tabitha. Storytelling is a gift – but much of the craft can be learned.

    You make me smile, too, Sherri. And laugh. 🙂

    Linda, I have worn out my LaVyrle books, but won’t part with them for new ones. They are old friends. Thank you for buying my book!

  24. Cheryl,

    I love your “How I got started” story. It’s so full of hope, opportunity, and the importance of stepping out on faith. Leap and discover your wings!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  25. Hi Cheryl,
    Well, sorry I’m late to the party, but I wanted to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed your post. What an inspiration! I am so glad to learn more about your writing career and successes. I felt the same way when my daughter went to kindergarten. Even though I had my son at home still–he’s three years younger, it was just such a “lost” feeling. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with all of us. I’m glad to get to know you better!
    Cheryl P.

  26. I’m a little late, Cheryl, but I’m glad you didn’t give up! I was once rejected by every editor in NYC myself! (a little hyperbole but not much!)

  27. Cheryl, I have really enjoy reading all your books . I still have you latest book I must read soon. I like what you write historicals and love inspired historical.

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