This post is about embracing the writer you are rather than the writer you thought you would be.
It’s about allowing your goals to change and your vision to shift even if you’ve worked hard to make one particular path work. It’s about redefining success as a writer and accepting your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also about seeing potential for a writing career that does not include a book.
Let me give you some background first.
THE TYPICAL NOVELIST’S DAYDREAM
As a child, I daydreamed about becoming a novelist, the only kind of writer I knew about at the time. Many of you can relate, I’m sure. I imagined book tours, and as I got older, I noted the place on a shelf where my books might sit.
In hindsight, however, my writing history, even the earliest moments, pointed towards the short form. In fifth grade I wrote short stories about my teachers, and I occasionally won essay contests in junior high and high school.
I took two creative writing class in college, and my professors would tell me, “You are a writer.”
Although the work these instructors based that statement on were essays and short stories, I still chose to hear “you are a novelist.” A writer had to write books, I thought. Even a nonfiction writer was not the real thing without a book.
I took a break from writing while I was an English teacher, a career choice that seemed more responsible and realistic for a lover of literature than trying to be the person who creates fiction. I enjoyed the job, but when I had my first child, I did not want to be stuck on a teacher’s schedule nor did I want to grade 125 essays every other week. I stayed home with my son, filling my days with play dates, baby classes, errands, and reading. I did not, however, revive my desire to write until my second child was born.
“I should have been a novelist,” I would say, through tears, to my husband.
“So do it,” he said. “Write novels. It’s not too late.”
THE FIRST BOOK
To make a very long story decently short, in a year I had a draft of a novel. I happened to mention the manuscript in a “Mommy and Me” class, and as luck would have it, one of the other moms had recently moved to Minneapolis from New York, where she’d worked as a foreign rights agent at a big agency.
“Let me read it,” she said.
I was shocked that she loved the manuscript and wanted to send it to a former colleague. During a long phone conversation months later with Becca, my classmate’s best contact for women’s fiction at the agency, she explained why she didn’t think the book worked. But Becca helped me identify the storyline in my manuscript that she could picture as a novel. (It’s unusual to get this kind of attention on the phone from an agent who is not signing you. Becca was doing her friend a favor.)
Grateful for some much needed direction, I then spent the next year writing the book that Becca envisioned. In the meantime, I had a few short stories published, one of which was the first chapter of the new book, an excellent fact for my query letters to agents once I completed the new novel.
QUERY LETTER ADDICTION
I wrote a killer query letter if I may say so myself. (See, another short form success!)
I then spent the next six months responding to emails from agents who requested chapter samples or the entire manuscript.
One dream agent took enough interest to speak to me on the phone with suggestions for revisions. She read several more drafts of the book and was willing to read yet another draft when it hit me:
I hate this book.
In fact, I didn’t like writing novels at all.
I told the agent that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the idea anymore, and of course thanked her profusely for the time she’d spent on my work.
DISCOVERING THE BLOGGING WORLD
I wanted a break from novels, but I didn’t want to stop writing. Luckily I had seen a few calls for submissions from two writing blogs I liked: Writer Unboxed and Write it Sideways.
I also answered a call for guests posts at my friend’s very popular parenting site, Scary Mommy, as well as a local Jewish site I enjoyed called tcjewfolk.com. Within a matter of months in the middle of 2010 right after my third child was born, I had four blog posts up on four different sites.
But I didn’t have a slice of the Internet to call my own.
While I was writing novels, I had always claimed that I would never start a blog, but by November of 2010, I quickly learned how to use the most basic version of a free Wordpress site.
My first post had about 20 comments, which I thought was incredible. After those years writing novels alone with little feedback, I was hooked.
Somehow I discovered Anne’s blog early on, and I’m so grateful that she encouraged me to change my blog’s name and URL from the silly “A Mom in the Middle” to “Nina Badzin’s Blog” with the URL as the simple ninabadzin.com.
She also helped me stay on the manageable posting schedule of once a week rather than slopping together several posts a week. This allowed me to keep writing and publishing short stories, as well as gave me time to build a readership through regularly reading others’ blogs and commenting thoughtfully.
GETTING PAID TO WRITE FOR OTHER SITES
Before I could abandon the old daydream of writing books, I had to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. I pursued four new novel ideas, one after the other, but never got further than 25,000 words before I’d get to what I called the “so-what factor.”
I was forcing something that simply was not there.
The essays and short stories, while still hard work for me, became a challenge I enjoyed. And I was successful at earning new opportunities. I continued to get short stories published as well receive invitations to guest post for other writers’ blogs.
I had my first acceptance at The Huffington Post
, which gave me some desired “street cred” with friends and family even if as a writer it’s not particularly impressive to give away that much work for free on a site so littered with ads. (That’s an entirely separate essay. I don’t mind writing for free for other writers’ blogs like the Twitter tips column I wrote for Writer Unboxed
or the stories I submit to literary journals, but for sites that are successful businesses, it doesn't feel right.)
I’m proud to say that at this point I’m a paid contributing writer at two sites I enjoy and respect. One is Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Moms
and the other is Kveller.com
a website focused on Judaism and parenting. Both sites fit my strengths and my voice well, and they have an active readership, wonderful editors, and good reputations.
I’ve had other exciting opportunities like a recent assignment for a local magazine, speaking and teaching engagements, and other freelance gigs. I feel confident that the more I continue to tackle new topics and try new outlets for creative nonfiction or short fiction, the more I will continue to get my words out there, even if those words are not between the covers of a book.
Perhaps I am not the writer I thought I would be when I started, but I am a writer. And I’m having a darn good time with it, too.
lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children and blogs at ninabadzin.com
. She's a contributing writer at Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers
and at Kveller.com
She has published many articles in The Huffington Post, Writer Unboxed, The Jewish Daily Forward
, various anthologies, and elsewhere.
Her fiction has appeared in Compose Journal, The Drum Literary Magazine, The Illanot Review, Independent Ink Magazine, Literary Mama, Midwestern Gothic, Monkeybicycle, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac: a Journal of Poetry and Prose
, and others. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her favorite story “Son.” Nina tweets at @NinaBadzin
and is on Facebook at NinaBadzinBlog
What about you, Scriveners? Have you found yourself taking a detour in your writing? Do you feel guilty when writing blogposts or creative nonfiction instead of working on your novel? As a reader, do you feel the novel is a "superior" art form to essays, reviews, stories, and articles? Do you think the novel will continue to be the most respected form of verbal self-expression? Have you ever considered giving up on the query/self-publishing process and making money writing for magazines or the Web?
COMING UP ON THE BLOG
This week we hit a million pageviews! Thanks everybody! And thanks to Moira Allen at Writing World, for giving this blog their monthly "Awesome Blog" spotlight.
June 22: Nathan Bransford
: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former Curtis Brown agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.
July 20th: Janice Hardy
: host of Fiction University
and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.
August 10th Jami Gold
: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.
September 14th Barbara Silkstone
: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.
October 12 Jessica Bell
: author of Polish Your Fiction, a Self-Editing Guide.
And this week Anne will be speaking to the Nightwriters of San Luis Obispo at their monthly meeting. She's going to be talking about all the bad advice new writers get...and why to ignore it, and how to avoid being scammed by people who prey on new writers. 6:30 PM at 2201 Lawton St. (near Corner of South & Broad) San Luis Obispo, CA. More on the SLO Nightwriters website. Open to the public. No charge. She'll be signing copies of her books as well.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Chanel and Gatsby
Two great comedies for the price of one!
Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper and Anne R. Allen's The Gatsby Game
Together in one volume for only $2.99
Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy! Perfect for summer beach reading on either coast.
The Chanel Caper
Nora Ephron meets James Bond. Or is it the other way around?
The Gatsby Game
A Hollywood mystery with celebrities, murder and a smart-mouthed nanny.
Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks
(A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th
BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST
$2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.
The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America"
Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.
The Golden Quill Awards
: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.
WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST
$24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.