Several days ago, I received a lovely email from a reader:
My name is [Student Name] and I am a student in the Creative Writing MFA Program at [College Name]. I am nearing graduation and am beginning a class, which is designed to prepare us for life as writers!
For a course assignment, we are supposed to “interview” a writer who is published, and I thought it would be perfect to get your insight; I read your book, Rewrite the Stars, last year and really enjoyed the writing style and the overall story!
As for the interview, I’d like to ask a few questions regarding your writing life to be posted for the class in salon-like discussion. You may answer any or all, as completely as you see fit.
If you can return your answers within a week or so, that would be appreciated. Class begins next week and we are sharing what we find soon after! Your answers will provide valuable insights as our class begins its journey to become writers. Thank you for your time, and I’m so, so happy that I’ve found your writing. (Can’t wait for your next project!)
All my best,
Let me tell you, friends, that this email made my day. Someone appreciated my writing! Someone believes in me! How cool! This is why I write. Had I ever contacted an author when I was younger to find out about the writing life, perhaps my trajectory to this current spot might look different. So hell yes, I’ll answer questions.
As I did so, I realized that what I had to say had value. Maybe more than just this student and her classmates could benefit from my words. And so, I share the questions and answers here.
Student: How long did it take for you to establish yourself as a writer?
Christina: How much time do you have? In all seriousness—though I’ve been writing for years, it wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to take the plunge. And by plunge, I mean that I made space for a creative writing workshop that met once a week for six weeks and required homework (with four kids ages 4-10 at the time, the idea of taking a class with homework for me seemed almost impossible). That workshop reignited my love of writing, provided guidance on how to give and receive feedback, and helped me finish two full novels within a year (neither of which will see the light of day). That class also gave me confidence to reach out and find a community of writers. I’m lucky—the Dayton, Ohio, area is rich with a robust writing community, so I easily found not only a writing group but also a whole cadre of other writers who were willing to chat about writing, exchange ideas, and support one another. Once I became involved with the online journal Literary Mama (in various editing roles) and Word’s Worth Writing Connections (as writing teacher) people began to recognize I had even more to offer, and I felt slightly more “like a writer.” It wasn’t until my book came out last year (2021), that I felt like I’d established myself as a true writer, partially because I then had something concrete and on the shelves as evidence!
So the math is pretty easy: 2021-2012 = 9 years. Nine years! That’s almost a decade. (Which just goes to show you how old I am!)
Student: What were the key events along the way?
Christina: I love bullet points, so bear with me here!
- Taking a creative writing workshop in 2012
- Finishing two draft of novels in 2013
- Joining Literary Mama as profiles editor in 2014
- Moving up to senior editor at Literary Mama in 2016
- Joining the board of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in 2017
- Attending the 10 Minute Novelists’ Conference in 2018
- Joining Word’s Worth Writing Connections in 2018
- Signing a book contract in 2020
- Publishing my debut novel in 2021
Everything on that list, for the most part, references an event or experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge base and learn something in the writing/publishing industry. If you find an opportunity to learn or make connections with other creatives—take it!
Student: What is your daily writing ritual like?
Christina: Let’s be honest: we have what the daily writing ritual should look like and what the daily writing ritual actually looks like. When I’m disciplined about writing—which occurs during November (National Novel Writing Month), when I’m actively revising/editing a novel, or when my youngest pesters me to write (she’s my biggest fan and supporter)—I rise early (between 5 and 5:15 a.m.) and write for an hour before the rest of the house begins to stir. Since I have a family and a day job (I teach and freelance edit) and a whole list of volunteer duties, writing during the daytime comes in fifteen-minute chunks, which collectively add up! (So don’t belittle the few moments you might find throughout the day. They are pure gold!) I usually try to fit in another thirty minutes or so before bedtime.
When I’m not disciplined about writing—which occurs when the sun shines in the winter, the ice cream truck drives by, my college-age kids come home, or one of my cats sits on my computer—I still reach for those fifteen-minute chunks of time since they are so manageable, regardless of what’s going on in my life (or outside the window!).
Writing is important to me, so I try very hard to be disciplined and stick with that ritual. I should also mention that my ritual involves a ton of thinking before I put the words on paper. So while it might look like I’m only doing dishes or laundry or chauffeuring one of the kids, I’m really sifting through backstory in my head or talking to characters and getting ready to write.
Student: What advice do you have for an emerging writer?
Christina: I taught college anatomy and physiology for years to students who were going to enter nursing school. It was a tough class, and many times, students wanted to quit. I’d always recounted my experience as a grad student in physiology: In my fourth year of grad school, I found out I was having twins. With a lot of grit and help from friends and family, I gave birth in late January of my fifth year and defended my dissertation that same year (within nine months). “If I can get a PhD with infant twins at home,” I said to the students, “then you can do this.”
And that’s what I say to every single emerging writer out there: If I can do it, you can too. Will it be difficult? Most likely. Will it be exhausting? Probably. Will you have good days and bad days? Will you have readers who don’t understand your work or you? Yes to all of those questions. But if you’re anything like me, you can’t not write.
Recently, I had to opportunity to provide 100 words of writing advice to the Literary Mama community, and I think it’s good to share with you too:
The Star Wars franchise isn’t something I’ve followed, but the wisdom of Yoda and its applicability to the writing life continue to resonate with me. “Patience you must have, my young Padawan,” “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” and “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment” are words to live by. If you write, you are a writer, and if you commit to writing, you will grow in your craft. Sit, put words to the page, and have patience. And above all else, believe. (If you don’t, Yoda has something to say about that too: “That is why you fail.”)
Oddly enough, after I sent those answers to the student, I had a meeting with a potential client. Though I didn’t mention anything about my questions and answers, she talked about how much she despises when people say, “If I can do it, you can too.” “There’s arrogance in that statement,” she said. “What we should say is: ‘If I can do it, it can be done.’ “
Well, friends, there’s no arrogance in my use of “If I can do it, you can too.” I’m simply letting you know that if you’re willing to do the hard work, if you’re willing to play the game and learn and tackle your passion, if you’re willing to acknowledge that it might take time (or not), you can get there. Is there a guarantee? No, but I believe you can get there. And sometimes just having another person believe in you will do the trick.
Which gets me back to that email . . .
Image of stacked rocks Schäferle by at Pixabay.com.