I came late to the writing party. Not because I meant to be late, but because I got lost. That’s what we do sometimes, little girls with big dreams of writing epic novels and curling up with tattered pages penned by famous authors. Growing up in the Deep South in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I lived in the material that might one day fuel my novel. Maybe I knew it at the time, but when you’re in the middle of the storm, sunlight sometimes seems far, far away.
I did what we do. I went to college, found a job, and soon had a career.
I found success in communications and lobbying in Washington DC, wearing my shoulder-padded power suits and writing talking points, speeches, and legislative text. I climbed those ladders, passed those bills, and put my little ding in the glass ceiling of smoke-filled political power chambers. When the restlessness set in, I moved from DC’s beltway to Hawaii’s beaches.
You probably think that’s when I figured it out, started writing. But no. I’d found the beach and the palm trees and the warm breezes, but not the muse. With no trust fund underwriting this course-shift, a vague entrepreneurial calling drove me to start a boutique luxury vacation homes business, reasoning that no one was doing it well, so surely I could do better. This time, I found success wearing shorts, sundresses, and slippahs (flip flops every where else in the country) managing multi-million dollar homes and pounding out text that wooed paradise-hungry visitors to plop down big bucks to get sand between their toes and leave it between the sheets of these dreamy beach homes.
By then, decades had passed since that little girl dreamed of being an author. I’d fallen in love, out of love, and in love again, producing three amazing kids and two ex-husbands. It was only when it seemed everything I’d built was caving in on itself – my business in tatters from the financial shenanigans of husband number two and my life in shambles from two decades of abuse – that’s when the muse swooped in. When it all falls apart and the jagged edges of vulnerability shine bright, maybe that’s when clarity finds a perch.
It’s been hard sometimes, and sometimes I think I might be a tad bit crazy. I’m almost always the oldest “young writer” in the mix, and I’ve written for such paltry dollars it sometimes makes me laugh. I send off lots of pitches and receive my share of rejections (or radio silence), both feeding my black pit of insecurity in this new world at my mature age. But I’ve also landed some sweet cover stories and plum assignments. I’ve found stories gazing out my window over morning coffee and chatting up strangers on airplanes. I’m amassing my clips and building relationships with editors and other writers. Every July I return to a writing program in Paris where I first launched this trial balloon, a middle aged woman finding her muse, and every summer my soul is fed and my writing tribe rallies around me, pushing me to dig deep, write more, and tell the stories that need to be told.
Those wanderings along that circuitous path to the party – I know now it wasn’t a detour; it was part of my journey. Navigating political, corporate, and entrepreneurial waters, I learned how to tell stories the way clients and readers want them told. I saw it done wrong and learned how to do it right. I saw failure and knew that the sun would still shine again. And now, through life’s chance moments and not-always-optional reboots, I’m making my living as the writer I always hoped I’d be.
I’ve learned to check my ego at the door. I’ve learned that store brands are just as good as label at half the price. I’ve discovered that $300 is a lot of money, and that I can love and laugh and live wonderfully on a fraction of the income I once thought so important. Best of all, I’ve learned the pure joy of seeing my byline online, in print, and even in those glossies I’ve admired. Literally some 40 years since I first discovered how words can bring such joy and stayed up all night to finish a book, I’m now finding modest success here too, this time often in pajamas or yoga pants or mismatched shorts and tee shirts. I’m pitching and hustling and stressing over deadlines just like every other word-obsessed writer hunched over a laptop with a cold cup of coffee leaving a ring on the desk. Some days, I even manage to carve out time to work on that novel about life in the South.
And I can’t imagine it any other way.
NOTE: This first appeared on my writer friend Jordan Rosenfeld’s website, right here. She wrote this wonderful book, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, and asked me if I had thoughts on persistence. Boy did I! Jordan is one of the most prolific writers I know, churning out more words in a day than some of us do in a week, and still managing to post adorable kitty and kid pictures on social media.
- Dear Indiana
- Is This Who We Are Now?