I would like to welcome Danika Dinsmore to my blog today! She is the author of The White Forest Series. Book one is Brigitta of the White Forest, which I reviewed here. Book two, The Ruins of Noe, was published this month through Hydra House Books.
My 20-Year Overnight Success Story
Many of you have probably seen the “what other people think I do” meme. When I saw this one for WRITER I had to laugh, because there is a bit of truth to it.
I often wonder what my husband thinks I do all day. And I sometimes feel the need to share any news or progress with him not because I want to share necessarily, but in order to justify all the time I spent home alone without any laundry getting done.
Becoming a writer kind of sneaks up on you, because truly, it’s not as romantic and glamorous as we all daydream it will be. I can’t even pinpoint when I started, not like someone with an outside world job can say, “I started at The Company on March 6, 2010.”
So let’s say I started my writer “job” 20 years ago, because that’s when I graduated with my MFA in Writing and Poetics with dreams of becoming a famous performance poet teaching at a foreign university. You might not realize this, but it’s hard to make a living as a poet. It can be done; anything can be done. It’s all just a matter of persistence, patience, and focus. It took me a while to get there, but I will tell you right now, the best advice I ever got was banged over my head in a big way. I literally lost a quiz game for my team at the end of a conference because I couldn’t come up with the word FOCUS. I could have won about $3000. If I ever needed a sign from the universe . . .
So, after 16 years of writing in any form that would come my way, flitting from outside world job to outside world job, being over-involved in the literary and film communities, collaborating on pro-bono projects for the fun of it – I committed to focusing on one path: make a living as a children’s novel writer.
I didn’t let myself get distracted by shiny objects. I was strict with my schedule when I worked from home. When I worked outside the house I read over my novels on the bus, edited my stories on my lunch breaks, and worked on marketing and social media when I got home. Whenever I traveled out of town, I figured out a way to do a reading, visit a school, or give a talk while there.
It’s not that I hadn’t been enjoying all of my previous artistic pursuits and attending numerous poetry readings and film screenings. I’m the first one to admit I’ve lived a charmed life. I just decided one day that I wanted to make a living as a writer. I got focused and let go of almost everything else. I stopped making movies with my friends, I stopped writing poetry unless one was going to burst through my skin, and I only taught classes that focused on speculative fiction and world building. Through all my activities, paid or unpaid, I tried to figure out a way for them to be outlets for my children’s author self.
Ten years ago, when I was filling out my tax returns or crossing the border into Canada, when I was asked my occupation I would say, “I’m a teacher . . . and a writer.” About six years ago it turned into, “I’m a writer . . . and a teacher.”
This year was the first year on my tax return that I put AUTHOR for my occupation.
Only a small portion of my income came from actual royalties, mind you. The rest came from authorly activities, like teaching creative writing and world-building, speaking at conventions, school visits, etc.
But I wasn’t doing those things every day, and I certainly wasn’t writing all day long. There were a lot of things I had done in the past year that were this nebulous blob of stuff-to-get-done. The not so exciting stuff – at least that’s how I used to look at it.
I am a compulsive list-maker. I love lists and spreadsheets. Spreadsheet lists are the BEST. One day last year I made my daily a To Do List and as I was reading it over, it dawned on my that everything on the list had to do with my book, my tour, my launch, or my branding. None of it was actual fiction writing, just “stuff” that needed to get done in order to have a writer’s life. Blog posts and other social media, cold phone calls, creating a flyer for a school visit, creating an email campaign, working on my new query, answering my copyeditor’s email about spelling choices, etc.
It had been slowly dawning on me that being a writer wasn’t as romantic and glamorous as I had fantasized. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I’m sure this is not news. We’re all told about the hundreds of rejections and the hours spent on social media and marketing and pounding the pavement. But I think there’s always a little piece of us that thinks, “Well what if I AM the next JK Rowling? What if magic really does happen?”
I’m here to tell you that it does. When I looked down at that To Do List, I thought to myself, “Holy cow, I’m doing it. I’m having a writer’s life.” It just didn’t look like I had imagined it would, that’s all. I was still doing it.