Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On the Way to Becoming a Real Writer

Thanks to Linnea Heaney for this week’s guest post.

I didn’t see it coming.

About four years ago, I was laid off from a state-wide education position and the opportunity I had been wanting since college appeared at my front door. All I had to do was open it and step out; but I was lost and my compass broken.

I’d been speeding along, paying my children’s tuition and trying to stay sane. How could I unlock my brain from workplace thought patterns? I kept going out the back door with its turnkey and well-worn path. It was not going to be easy. On the good side, my husband had a job and the kids were just about out of school. Gradually, I realigned our monthly budget. Still, my mind was stuck in the eight-to-five foggy world.

Then a friend mentioned she needed a mural in a reading corner for children, but couldn’t justify allocating money to hire a noted artist when the money should be spent on books. I remarked off-handedly that even I could paint a mural, and I wouldn’t charge anything. My head must have been elsewhere because I was shocked to find myself being asked if I really would paint the mural. I agreed.

I jumped off a cliff without anything to catch me on the way down. But my brain clicked and intuitively my hand sketched freely on brown painter’s paper. The brain-to-hand-to-pencil connection worked wonderfully.

Unlike the academic writing I had been doing, the mural process seemed more similar to the creative writing I needed to do. Taking one step at a time pushed my creative spirit along. The actual painting took place over a few Sunday afternoons when I worked in solitude. Up and down the ladder I went, applying color in freeing strokes. I was in flow and flying, I had found my creative self. And isn’t that the reason we write and draw: to find our true selves?

Over the next months, I attended workshops and SCBWI conferences. I started writing children’s manuscripts all over again. While working one-on-one with an editor at Chautauqua, I began to learn how to move a story forward. I found a key while listening to a presenter at a workshop based on Julia Cameron’s books. On the way to becoming a real writer, I unlocked and threw open doors and windows. I found myself and in the process found my writing and my voice.

The next manuscript I revised was one of my oldest stories, a picture book, and it quickly received two publisher rejections that summer. It was the story closest to my heart, but I put it in a drawer and continued writing my first novel. Three months later I accidentally ran into the workshop presenter at a bookstore event. The manuscript in the drawer was mentioned. By the next day she had read it and, ultimately, it was published at Hunger Mountain, VCFA Journal of the Arts.

Out the front door I step every day, searching for truth in my writing. Opportunities come in the most unlikely ways: not really planned, they present themselves as possibilities and wait for me to open the next new door. They launch me—sometimes not very high, but I am flying. I am a full-time writer and author.

Linnea writes for young readers and those searching for a voice. She does presentations on story voice and emergent literacy. Hiking on mountain trails, in the high desert, and in the little corners around America are part of her journey. Her blog, "Linnea's Illuminated Notes," considers writing, children's literature, and early literacy.

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