Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Call

It happened today. I got the call. Writers talk about "getting the call" like it's some mythical thing, a fairy godmother moment when all of your dreams magically come true. Because it is.

Today my agent, the passionate, brilliant, patient mentor of my dreams, Harvey Klinger, called me to say that my novel revisions are done, my book is ready, and he's going to start sending it out to acquisitions editors at publishing houses. Today I am not just a writer who locks herself up in her office for 5 hours every day and pours her heart onto a blank page hoping someday someone out there will care to read a few words of it. Today is the day I take the next step.

It's been a long journey, to say the least. I started writing short stories when I was 8, after a student-teacher visited my fourth grade class and gave us the first paragraph of a story, and an assignment to write an ending for it. We were supposed to add a paragraph or two. Four pages later, I had discovered a passion I never knew was there. So I wrote, almost daily, from then on. Occasionally I showed a story to my mother or sister, but rarely anyone else. Writing was a private thing for me, best done by flashlight in a journal after I was supposed to be asleep.

I had awesome English teachers in both junior high and high school (let's raise a toast to public school teachers who can reach through the bureaucracy to inspire kids!). These teachers recognized a glimmer of talent in the super shy petite girl who never raised her hand or spoke above a whisper. They made me read my papers aloud to the class as examples of good writing. They made me believe in myself and stop thinking of writing as purely a private thing.

On the encouragement of those teachers, I went to college as a writing major, where I learned to love writing workshops and critique groups and hanging out with other writers who were crazy talented and chasing the same big dream. I generated a ton of writing in college, but I never tried to publish any of it. That still seemed like something for other, better writers, not me.

But from the moment I finished college, I missed it. The camaraderie of writers. I lucked into an editing job with no editing training. I loved my job, but it was mostly correcting grammar and drafting department newsletters and brochures, and it didn't feed my creative writing side. So I decided to go to grad school, to immerse myself back into the stew of writers taking risks and pushing themselves and dreaming big. It was a hard two years. I was in the middle of a divorce which I insisted on doing myself, because why hire a lawyer to do a bunch of paperwork I could do myself? I was working full-time and going to school full-time, leaving me with about thirty seconds of down time each day. I gave up eating and sleeping and TV and movies and seeing friends and family. I came down with mono and refused to miss a single class because I had no free time to make up missed assignments. And I loved every minute of it. I was in workshops with some of the most talented writers I'd ever seen. I was inspired by them, pushed by them, and I stretched and grew as a writer.

And then I graduated: exhilarated, exhausted, totally burnt out, and took a break. I got remarried. I had kids. I settled into the life of a mom and wife first and foremost. Writing became a sometimes-hobby, not a passion. I squeezed it in around the edges, never giving it my full attention. I was freelance-editing from home while caring for two kids a year and a half apart, two babies at once, really, with a husband who was gone a lot for work. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, friend-deprived, passion-deprived. And as it all slowly began to unravel, the marriage and the life I thought I'd always wanted, I realized the only thing that had always made me 100% happy was writing. And I wasn't writing.

I started again. Small at first. A couple of hours a couple times a week. Short stories and outlines for books and random scenes for screenplays. I wrote my first (terrible) novel that none of you will ever see, but I learned a lot in the process. I took a risk and started submitting short stories. My first story was a finalist for a Glimmer Train contest. That's not a small thing, but I didn't know it at the time. I just thought: wow, recognition is great! And it lit a fire, and it made me happy, every second of every day that I spent writing eclipsed the sadness of my failing marriage and doubts about my skills as a frequently-solo mother. So I kept at it. Writing, submitting, writing, submitting. I made a choice, to pursue writing with all that I had, to pour every feeling that I had bottled up inside onto the page. Writing is a solitary thing, and one of the hard things about my life was that I was alone too much, always with kids in tow, but without enough grown-up friends or family around to remind me of who I was aside from a mom. Writing became that friend. And then a funny thing happened. The joy that writing gave me opened me back up, and suddenly I had a whole slew of great new friends who knew me as a writer and not just a mom. And then I began to see myself that way.

My kids know that I'm a writer. When people ask them what I do, they are quick to say "My mom's a writer." It took me years to own that label, to introduce myself to people as a writer. Even after getting published, I had only ever earned income as an editor. How could I call myself a writer? Even after getting award recognition for a novel, I was reluctant to use the term. Even though I was spending hours each day writing, I had trouble owning it.

So that's the big difference that getting the call makes. I still earn my income editing other writers' maniscripts. But now, now I feel like I can own that "Writer" label with pride. Now I have people in the business who know a lot more about writing and publishing than I do calling me a writer. Now I have a voicemail that I will save forever from the best agent ever telling me: "You did it. You're ready." That was the call. And it's changed everything.