I met Stephanie Vaccaro through my writer’s critique group, Write On! She published one of the stories in the group’s anthology, Masquerade, called When Darkness becomes Light. Tagline:
A gift? A curse? A choice.
BTW–this also includes an award-winning memoir I wrote a while ago called The Single Anchor—
Two kids, a dog, no job, lots of bills. How I made that work for two years.
Stephanie has worked for a number of publications as a writer and editor and published her debut book in 2020, The Little Book of Magical Stories: Finding Traces of the Divine in Daily Life. I asked her to share her thoughts on being a new writer:
A Few Thoughts for New Writers
It’s okay. That weird impulse you have to write that baffles others did not occur by accident. Because of it, you will be able to offer others a gift they may need: to read your work. But getting started and staying on track can be tricky. What follows are a handful of tips that I wish I’d come across earlier in my own journey. I hope they’re helpful to you now.
When I was in college, students always asked visiting writers: how do you write? They weren’t asking how their brain managed to strand words together so beautifully. They meant, where do you sit? For how long? Morning or evening? What is your habitual practice of creating?
They asked as though there was one mysterious answer that the exalted writer would utter, and then we too could be considered writers if we mimicked them. But the truth is, whether you wake up at 4:00 a.m. or you write on the train commuting to work, writers write. They just do. They take this seemingly bizarre solitary activity and pursue it like it matters. They carve out time from their lives, they put words on a page, and the next day they get up and do it all over again.
What I’ve found is that I allocate 8:30 to 10:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I schedule it like I would a lunch date, and I try not to cancel. The occasional late night will interrupt this, but I try to honor it. Also, I’ve found that two hours isn’t overwhelming. Shorter bursts of time lend to greater productivity for me. When I’m really working on a tight deadline, I try to make it to coffee shops a few times a week after work for a 45-minute writing session. These proved to be particularly useful as I raced to finish my first book. Because of Covid19, most of my coffee shop dates are at home, and now they take place from 5:30 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. during the week. Just about anyone can eek out a mere 30-45 minutes if they’re willing to lose a little sleep.
Utilize the Buddy System
This is one tip I wish I had figured out earlier in life. For the type A personalities out there, you can skip to the next tip. But for the rest of you, consider finding someone in your life who cares about your progress and is willing to accompany you. Having someone check in to see how your work is coming along, how much progress you’re making, or why you’ve stopped altogether is invaluable. For me, this turned out to be my dad. He cared. He knew that I’m happier when I write, somehow more able to handle the ups and downs of life, and he continues to accompany me. He helped me set a calendar of deadlines for my first book. He checked in with me to see how I was progressing. He encouraged me and then encouraged me some more. Find someone who care. I promise you, it will deepen your relationship with them and make you a much nicer person. Because when you are writing, the drama in your own life seems to ebb a bit.
Find a Writers Group
This one is obvious, but it came as a total surprise to me because I had sat through workshops before without feeling particularly inspired. You can’t join just any writer’s group. You have to find one where the dominating influences are courtesy and kindness. You need a space that is part support group. Yes, it will help you to have people read your work and help you refine it. But it’s also just a wonderful way to not feel so alone in such a bizarre endeavor. Your local library may be able to help you find a group.
Read as Much as You Can
There’s nothing quite like reading books, articles, and poems to spark inspiration in you. Reading also teaches you about sentence structure, syntax, dialogue, pacing, character, and plot, all while entertaining you. So turn off Netflix and pick up a good book. Goodreads has a collection of “best of” lists you can check out. https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/best
Write Morning Pages
For those of you who have not already discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, do yourself a favor, consider picking up a copy. In her book, she suggests that you hand write three pages each morning. Just pour out your thoughts, whatever they might be. Ms. Cameron says that morning pages eventually turn into prayers. Eventually you run out of things to complain about. Eventually you feel that the page has heard you, taken in your whining and the little injustices of the day. This form of listening allows you release your worries and irritations without burdening another. Eventually, your brain turns to gratitude.
Even if you’re thinking, I’m not religious, it’s okay. You can harness the power of gratitude without focusing on a single higher power. It will change your orientation to yourself, to your family, to your community, and to the day before you. To learn more about her, you can check out her website [https://juliacameronlive.com/].
If you have the urge to write, it’s for a reason. There is something in you to share with the world. You may end up with 10 readers or 10 million. It doesn’t matter. What matters, I think, is summed up in a quotation that a friend shared with me in college:
“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” ―Jean Rhys
Because, in the end, you have a gift to share with the world that may only ever come to light through you. Give that gift to the rest of us. We need you.
More about being a writer
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.