Monday, February 9, 2009

How I Became a Writer and Why You Should Write

I loved to read and scribble as a kid. My idea of a good time in the summer was a Nancy Drew book and a popsicle in the back yard. My sisters will agree with me, this was great. Our husbands find us particularly pathetic. But I so loved to read.

Fast forward to me graduating from college and giving birth to our first daughter. My husband and I spent just under a year in Atlanta and I had been reading a time-travel romance. I missed my family terribly and decided that I wanted to start writing a story about a Civil War time-travel to divert my thoughts. Well, interestingly enough, my husband decided he wanted to go back to Utah to finish school and we've been here ever since. (I like to remind him that it was his idea to return whenever he pines about missing the east coast. He's from Florida).

So I began the book in Atlanta on a computer that was as big as a coffee table and had a word processing program that couldn't keep up with my speedy typing. I had to pause every few minutes to let it catch up. (These fingers are strong! I learned to type in 7th grade on a manual typewriter. Computer keyboards are like warp speed in comparison).

I kept working on the book when we returned to Ogden, Utah, but put it away at intervals, thinking it was just a waste of time. When we got a new computer with a fancy dial-up internet connection, I became involved in a wonderful world of writers and readers. I received encouragement from friends I'd never met in person and decided to finish that book.

I did some local research, reasoning that I had a better chance at publication if I tried a local market first. The big players at the time were Deseret Book, Bookcraft and Covenant. A lot of fiction I spied on shelves at bookstores came from Covenant, and as it happened, when I finished the book and mailed it off to those three pubs, Covenant was the company that accepted it and I really feel that I landed in a very good place for me.

I've since published 8 other titles with Covenant. In fact, by the time the first book was finally accepted for publication, I had already almost finished the sequel. There were four romantic adventures at first, followed by a series of four Civil War volumes. My ninth book came out last fall and is a mystery/adventure/romance set in 1865 India.

All told, I love to write so much. I can't pick a more perfect career for myself. Someday I'd love to do postgraduate studies in writing or literature, but for now, I am so content. I love, love what I do. I also hate what I do. Writing is hard, and there are so many reasons not to sit down and write. But once I do, I get absolutely lost in another world and I'm always amazed at what appears on the screen.

When people tell me they've always wanted to write, I tell them to sit down and do it. That's the hard part. Once you have something on the page, you can tweak it, edit it, delete parts, add to it, whatever. Write for the joy of putting another world on the page/screen. Write to escape. Write to learn. Write to leave memories for yourself or your kids. Just write something! It's such an amazing form of self-expression. Sometimes I look back on journal entries and think, "Ok, I am a complete and utter dork." Other times, I laugh and think I'm pretty funny.

What I wouldn't give to have something from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers-- their journals, letters, something. These women are a part of my life because I often imagine channeling them to help me with problems or issues. I picture them with me, and I'd love to have a written account of what they did, how they lived. I'd even love to read something fictional they'd written, because you can see a person through the writing, even if it's "pretend."

So I rambled a bit, but that's the start of my writing story in a nutshell. Now my challenge to you is to pick up a pen or start a new file on your computer. Start writing something. Anything. Truth or fiction, scary or funny, memoir, short journal entry, ANYTHING. Your grandchildren will thank you. And if you don't ever want anyone to read what you wrote, well, that's ok too. Keep it for yourself. You'll be amazed at what comes out.


Valerie said...

What a terrific story, Nancy, and absolutely inspiring. It would fit right in with any of the stories in Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul (I wonder if there's another volume in the works). After I finish my current editing projects, I'll reread your post and let myself feel inspired all over again.

I know how you feel about wanting words from the women in your family. I absolutely treasure the few pages of autobiography written by my great-grandmother about her life and her mother's (who came from Sweden, where she--as in so many faith-promoting stories we hear--was baptized in a frozen river where the ice had to be broken first. But she said, "It was like the hymn 'The Spirit of God like a fire is burning,' and we did not feel the cold." We can't change what they wrote or didn't write but you can write for your children and inspire us to write for our families. Thanks, Nancy.

Annette Lyon said...

I love hearing about how other writers got started.

And I couldn't agree more--everyone should write SOMETHING, even if it's "just" a journal. The process of putting words down is powerful.

Michele Ashman Bell said...

Where were you when I was a beginner? I could have used your optimism, humor and encouragement. Your road to success is inspiring!

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Thanks, ladies. And might I return all the compliments? I admire each of you very, very much.

Michele, when I was just starting out, it was YOUR books I was seeing on the shelves when I did my informal market research. What a thrill it was to meet you in person!

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

And Val! I'm cold just thinking about being baptized in a frozen river. Annette can attest, too, the frozen Scandinavia is mighty cold sometimes.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences as a writer. Way cool. =)And speaking of which, I was baptized in ice cold water, too. The water heater wasn't working for the stake baptismal font the day I was baptized. But in way of good news, I've never forgotten that day. =D