How I Became a Writer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

on writing: embrace your madness

I was reading author bios for a con I'll be attending later this year, and I saw one thing pop up again and again: lifelong dedication.

She has been writing since she could hold a pencil. 
He always knew he wanted to be a writer. 
She has an MFA and taught writing at the college level.

Now, I'm a traditionally published author, but I find that intimidating. Know why?

I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. 
I always knew I wanted to be an artist. 
I have a BA in Studio Art, which is a pretty useless piece of paper.
I have never taken a single writing course and feel like a n00b CONSTANTLY.

But you know what?

That doesn't make me any less of a writer.

See, the day before my daughter was born in 2006 was my last day in an office job at a gallery. After years of careful planning, I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. And that was enough for me, right up until 2009, when my second child was about nine months old. He was nursing constantly, sleeping poorly, and projectile vomiting for seemingly random reasons, usually on me. I was running on less than three hours of sleep a night.

To be quite honest, I was hallucinating. I would lay beside him at night, nursing him back to sleep and imagining that talking rats were skulking in the walls.

And because my brain was completely muddled, starving, and mixed up, suddenly that voice that always told me I couldn't do the impossible... went silent. After all, if talking rats can live in the walls, I could write a book, right?


First a truly terrible book about a harried young mother who went on a cruise and accidentally slept with a god, and then a kids' book about... talking rats that lived in the walls.

By the time I finished my second book, I was getting enough sleep to be sane. And my internal naysayer came right back to life.

You can't get an agent. You can't sell a book. You're not trained. You have no credentials. You don't know what you're doing. You aren't in NYC. You don't know anybody in the business. You're a stay-at-home mom who sits on the couch all day, attached to a parasitic baby. You're an artist, and that's what you're supposed to be, even if you haven't wanted to paint in a year.

And I told her to shove it, because if I could produce two tiny people and keep them alive and then write two books, I could do goddamn anything I wanted to do.

Shortly after that, I started querying and racking up rejections from agents. And then, a few months later, I found an agent. And then, a few months later, that book didn't sell. But I was already writing a new book. And almost one year after finding an agent, she sold the book that would become Wicked as They Come. And a year after that, she sold my first YA.

Why do I tell you this?

Because I want you to understand that I wrote my first book in 2009, at age 32, with a baby in my lap and so crazy from lack of sleep and the stress of young motherhood that I would get scared at night and cry alone because I thought I was totally losing it.

That book was my escape. And my salvation.

I found out who I was and what I was supposed to do at what might have been my weakest point as a human being. I stumbled upon it *because* I was at my weakest point. Because I was such a wreck that I didn't think to doubt myself.

And then I just surfed that wave the rest of the way in.

Wherever you are in your life, if you want to write, WRITE. It's hard work, and it doesn't pay as well as you think it will, and there will be days when you want to move to Hawaii and be the person that puts whipped cream on waffles, because that would be pretty easy by comparison, plus WAFFLES. But your lowest point can be transformative.

When I was desperate, insane, unwashed, unslept, hopeless, covered in baby vomit, and completely lost, I found myself.

You can, too.