Once I moved out on my own and had to start supporting myself, managing my life became an important priority. Making sure I had I job I could stand, enough money for rent and groceries, and a car that (more-or-less) functioned had to take precedence over writing, at least for a while.
But I still couldn't let go of the dream. As if trying to force creativity through my pores by osmosis, I dated a published author, a professional storyteller, a photographer, a musician. I surrounded myself with creative people as much as I could.
In between jobs, friends, and travel, I still wrote, and I tried to follow the suggestions I read so avidly in Writer’s Digest. I wrote poetry and short stories. I entered them in contests and submitted them to small literary magazines. I had a modest amount of success with my poetry, including some first place wins in contests (even one that paid me a whopping $100 which for an 84-word poem seemed like a great deal of money at the time).
I wasn’t anywhere near my dream of being a full time writer, but I was still working at it. I was living, working, exploring, traveling. I fell in love so enormously and got my heart shattered so badly that it inspired the initial idea for my first novel, The Seventh Magpie (although I wouldn’t have the emotional or literary maturity to actually finish this book until this year).
I read books and magazines about writing. I joined an excellent local writer’s group where we read and critiqued each other’s work every week. I kept writing, and I started getting used to that horribly uncomfortable feeling of sharing my work with other people on a regular basis: asking for, receiving, and giving constructive criticism.
Unexpectedly, I found that my lifelong habit of voracious reading had given me a skill I didn’t know I had. I was unusually good at critiquing other writers’ works and giving them helpful suggestions. Even though I felt as if I didn’t have any real qualifications, my writer friends encouraged me to start offering critiques professionally. I did a few freebies to get some testimonials, and then started freelancing for money. It still wasn’t enough to really support myself full time, but it was a way to at least make some money in the publishing field.
But one’s twenties are an unsettled time. Between changing jobs, changing cities, changing relationships, life was a constant deluge of new experiences. I wrote more poetry, I started a few different books, but my progress toward actually submitting my work dwindled to nothing. I knew that none of the stuff I was writing was finished enough to meet my own standards. I simply wasn’t mature enough yet mentally, emotionally, or in my literary skills to perfect my work, so I refrained from trying to publish. If it had been the age of easy electronic self-publishing, as it is now, I might have succumbed to the temptation to put my work out there anyway, but the reality of it is (as with many self-publishers nowadays), my work simply wasn’t good enough to go public yet. So, thanks to being born a long time before the age of Createspace and KDP, I managed to keep slowly experimenting and honing my skills while also avoiding publishing any majorly embarrassing works.
I dabbled in learning commercial copywriting for a while. I lived with a professional storyteller and frequently helped him develop his stories. We collaborated on a story that he performed on the local radio one Christmas. Collaborating was interesting and our particular efforts went relatively well, but over all I decided that it was more satisfying to write solo.
In my late twenties I moved to a new city, joined a new writers’ group based on the free-writing exercises in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. My poetry took on a much less constructed, metaphorical, and lyrical tone, and were more personal and conversational. Although I occasionally tried to get some of the poems published--and occasionally succeeded--I made little progress toward completing any of my novels. However, the free-writing techniques I learned were tremendously valuable tools that had a lasting impact on my productivity and creativity.
I fell in love, got married, and moved to yet another city, this one far from anyone I knew except for my husband. The job market was favorable at that time, and before long I found myself with an actual job as a low-level writer/editor on a real live magazine. Yes, it was an industrial trade magazine whose subject matter held no personal interest to me at all, but for the first time I was fully supporting myself by my writing and editing skills.
- Sometimes life takes over. That's okay. You're gathering material for later writing projects.
- Even if your writing can't be top priority right now, you can still make it a priority.
- Feed your creativity by interacting with other writers.
- If your work isn't ready to publish, don't publish it.
- Keep writing, even when you don't see progress.
- Try new fields, new formats, new methods. You never know when you might find one you love. Or one that will pay the bills!