Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A journey starts with a single step (and no idea where you are going)

Depending on you how you count it, my writing journey has taken 40 years or 20 years or 10 years.

I was first published nearly 40 years ago, thanks to Roald Dahl.  When I was 12, I sent  the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a short story about a frog named Herman who loved peanut butter. The day he received it, Dahl had lunch with the editor of an international children's magazine and read her the story. She contacted me and asked to publish it.  (In what was perhaps a bad omen, I didn’t get paid, and I even had to pony up for my own expensive subscription. I have since lost my copy of the magazine. I'm lucky I still have the postcard!)
As I got older, even though I read all the time, I didn't even dream of being a writer. I figured writers were known in high school for their creative essays (I wasn’t) and probably went to Harvard (I attended what was known as a “cow college,” where I majored in business).  
Starting to dream
About twenty years ago, fresh out of college during a recession, I got a job at the front desk of a hospital.  Because it was swing shift, there was a lot of down time. I started thinking that maybe I could try to write a book about the life and death that surrounded me every day.
Rejection (and more rejection)
I took a writing class with an instructor who had actually been published.  He was practically god-like in my eyes.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t the star of the class.  I wasn’t even the star-runner-up.  I was just one of the herd.  (The stars dropped out of the game after they got a few rejection letters from agents.  Me?  I must have collected over a hundred before I found my agent.)  
I also tried to join a critique group.  They asked me to submit a sample of my writing.  I sent it off, filled with pride at my precious words, sure I was a shoo-in.  I was told I didn’t have what it takes.  (And as far as I know, no one from that writing group has been published.  Not that I’m keeping track or anything.)  
"Overnight" success
That first book I wrote attracted no interest from agents. My second book got me an agent and nice rejection letters from editors. My third book didn't even get nice rejection letters from editors. My fourth book, Circles of Confusion, sold in three days. It was like a ten-year overnight success.
And it was ten years from when I signed that first contract to when I was able to quit my day job.  
Looking back, I think it’s better I didn’t know how long each step would take.  Even once you’ve been published, it doesn’t guarantee that your book will be supported in house, get good reviews, or sell well.  I guess I always thought that once you were an officially recognized writer, everything would be perfect.  But it’s not.  I’ve written books that didn’t sell to a publisher and gotten snarky professional reviews that made me want to cry. I used to have a day job with great benefits, and now I write on faith, hoping an editor and then readers will buy what I write.  
But you know what?  I would never go back.  I’m glad I persevered.  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that tenacity is as important as talent.  

And this year, my 9th and 10th books came out:  


  1. I love every word of this post, April. And that Dahl postcard? Priceless.

  2. Great story. Not bad for a cow college grad :)

  3. Amazing story! Yes, writing on faith is what it's all about.

  4. April, I feel like we had the same life! Yay for you. I do think success is mostly about hanging on and continuing even when the "market" or worse, the self-ordained literary critics say you ain't got the stuff. excellent post!

  5. What is it about sending letters to famous writers? They all get answered, and the letter writer goes on to be published. Hmm. A correlation?

  6. Great post, April! Your story is so personal, yet offers a terrific common thread! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great story! Can't wait to read your books.

  8. That postcard is just amazing... and so is your story, April!

  9. Oh, the postcard! My GOSH....
    Reading Girl,Stolen right now. Brilliant! (Can you imagine if you had given up?)

  10. Just to have Roald Dahl say he loved your story(and at age 12, no less!) is a WOW moment ;). Wonderful post, April. Glad you persisted through all of those years in between that fabulous postcard and now...

  11. We never know where our journey will lead us, but it's pretty much guaranteed we're going nowhere if we never take those first steps. Good for you April that you followed your hunches and your heart.