I love writing fiction. My first memory of writing something that would entertain was a play that I wrote for our neighborhood kids to perform when I was about 10 years old. My dad was a Navy Chief stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at the time. The base was enclosed, it was almost always sunny and warm, and the kids in the housing area I lived in stayed outside a lot.
We were good at entertaining ourselves with games of make believe, so it’s no surprise that I eventually decided to write and produce a play. I can’t tell you what it was about. I just remember the fun of writing it, building the set, and then actually performing the play. For me the writing was the best part. And it started a life-long love affair with creating stories.
I’ve written many stories since then. Nearly all of them have been relegated to a banker’s box in a closet. But it was that love of writing and creating stories meant to entertain other people that led me to eventually try my hand at making a living as a writer.
The truth is, I failed miserably with fiction. I wrote story after story and submitted them to short fiction markets only to receive rejection after rejection. At first, they were form letter, but over time I began to get rejections with little notes written on them. When I finally finished my first novel and started to submit it, the feedback was promising, but there was still a lot of work to do.
Promising rejections don’t pay the bills. Eventually, I reached a point where the options were to start making money with my writing or go back into the workforce, sitting behind a desk. I wanted to write, so I had to change gears.
I started submitting ideas for articles in nearly every market I felt I might have some knowledge. Eventually, that paid off. My first acceptance letter came in 1994. I wrote a small piece for a medical pamphlet company and they paid me $25. I wish I could have framed the check, but we needed the money, so the bank ended up with that one.
I sold a few articles over the next few years, but not enough to justify not having a “real” job. Instead, I worked and wrote and kept plugging at it. Then something strange happened. I got an email from a writer friend that needed help. Writing about technology.
I was clueless. I could barely make my computer function. I was also desperate. I’d wanted to be three things for as long as I could remember: a wife, a mom, and a writer. I had achieved the titles of wife and mom, but I still didn’t feel like a “real” writer. So, I did the only thing I could do. I said yes.
What followed was one of the greatest lessons I’ve every learned – that I could learn on the fly and build my skills (and expertise) in the process of writing a piece. One piece led to another, and now twenty years later, I can honestly say, I’m a working writer. I survive on the income that I make from writing – non-fiction.
It’s not what I’d dreamed all those years ago. I wanted (and still want) to be a Stephen King or Dean Koontz – a writer so prolific and so capable of telling great stories that people can’t wait to read the next one. But non-fiction pays the bills. It provides me with a lifestyle that I would never have been able to achieve working in an office. Best of all, there’s still hope for a future as a fiction writer, because the work that I do in non-fiction leaves time for me to focus on fiction.