Monday, December 13, 2010

My Writing Journey

By Ernessa T. Carter

I've pretty much always known I wanted to be a writer. The tricky part was figuring out what kind of writer I wanted to be. When I was a kid, I thought that maybe I'd write novels. When I was in college, I thought I'd either publish a short story collection or become a romance writer -- you know,  either one. After college, I started thinking that screenwriting was the way to go, so I got my MFA in Dramatic Writing.

After that I wrote screenplays, play-plays, radio scripts, ad copy, grant proposals, thank you cards -- you name it, I wrote it ... only to come back to my original notion of writing novels. 

When I think about my career, this one Yo Gabba Gabba song comes to mind: "Run! Run! Run! It's fun! fun! fun! Run in a circle! Run in a circle! Now freeze!"

That's my career's trajectory exactly. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like, if I'd had the focus of say Jonathan Safron Foer, and stuck with my original idea, ignoring all other career options as I lasered in on getting published.

But then again, I think of all the things that I wouldn't have done if I had run straight ahead as opposed to in a circle. I wouldn't have met my husband in California. I wouldn't have learned what it was like to work a mind-numbing day job -- which turned out to be research for my second novel. I wouldn't have learned to promote my plays and write ad copy -- two skills that proved way handy when it came time to promote my first novel. I also wouldn't have figured out that despite years of schooling in the language arts, I really, really, really need a copy editor (sadly, a lot of wannabe writers never learn this lesson). And I wouldn't have been nearly as grateful to be a published author as I am now.

So of course, this has me wondering about everyone else's career path. Did you always know you wanted to be a novelist and go straight there, stopping only to get a job that kept you in bread and water? Or did you try a bunch of other things along the way like I did? Let me know in the comments by Wednesday, Dec. 15th, and you could win an autographed copy of my first novel 32 CANDLES!

In addition to running FierceandNerdy.comErnessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES, which is totally worth picking up at your local bookstore or at


  1. No, it took me a good long while and quite a few, oh, let's call them "preliminary occupations" before I knew I needed to try to be a novelist.

    And like you, I learned a great deal along the way, so no regrets about that.

    But I do wish I'd gotten started about ten years sooner!

  2. I bet all of your previous experience has just made your writing richer.

  3. I agree with Karin, Ernessa. It's the twisty path for me. Of course that's the only one I've ever known.

  4. @Therese I remember feeling like I had a lot that I wanted to say, but not a lot that I had to say ten years ago. Still I wish I had started sooner, too.

    @Karin My experiences have made my writing richer, but I took more chances when I was younger that I wish I took now.

    @Lauren Yes, I think I'd choose twisty if I had to do it again, but then again, like you, I've never known anything else.

  5. NOpe. no idea about being a novelist! I mean, I wanted to BE Nancy Drew. At that age. But I was going to be a cowboy, then a waitress, then the lawyer for the MIne Workers Union, a geneticist, and a radio dsic jockey. Life turned out differently, and I've been a TV reporter since 1975.
    And starting at age 55--also a novelist.
    So nice!!

  6. Oh, I love these writing journey stories. As a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to be a singer more. Then as an adult, I thought writing would be my back-up plan in case I couldn't work some day - huh? So now I'm writing while I work the day job and my characters are often wanna be singers. :)

  7. I would have more to show for myself if I had started ten years earlier, but the desire to have four children was stronger and all-consuming. I started writing on the side as soon as the youngest was old enough to go to Mother's Day Out.

  8. I'm a late bloomer too, Ernessa, with a twisty path. Feel like I'm just getting to focus now on something for me. I was knee-deep in child rearing and I wouldn't have done anything else, but sure woulda liked to have a hot career by now!(Like pretty much everyone else around me) LOL. Still plugging! Thanks for sharing your path!

  9. I agree that all that running around is good for us as writers! And it does make it so much more satisfying when the pieces fall into place.

  10. @Marian, Twisty paths are the most interesting.

    @Ernessa, Keep run-run-running and you'll be just fine! You're still a pup!

  11. If you can believe this, DECADES ago, I wrote in a senior high compilation that my hope was to be a playwright. Destiny? I doubt it. More like an ankle-deep talent pool. Still, I've been fortunate enough to say "writer" under job description. Full time, bread winner writer... now that's another conversation entirely ;)

  12. A lot of authors know in their hearts that writing is the ultimate goal and dream. However, it doesn't pay the bills right away. A twisted path is quite alright as long as we end up in the right destination: published.

  13. I always wanted to be a model, but God apparently missed that memo and gave me big hips and cellulite. On the other hand, he did give me a great sense of humor and a funny name, so maybe becoming a novelist was always the plan.

    That's why I like stories like yours Ernessa. You found the right path, even though there were a few detours along the way. Looking forward to hearing more about your debut novel, but no doubt you're headed in the right direction.

    Very best of luck.

  14. When I was younger (ie about 6) I wanted to be, and I quote, a 'struggling artist'. For some reason, the idea of living in a small unit with art pieces everywhere, just barely scraping by, appealed to me.

    Of course, then I turned seven and realised I had absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever, and turned to architecture, which lead me to journalism, which lead me to writing. The plan is to keep with writing, because I absolutely love it, but who knows what the future holds?

    Great post Ernessa :)

  15. I can relate to your journey because I tried so many things before realizing that writing novels is what I'm meant to be doing. I just completed a course in developmental psychology (which ironically I was taking because I was considering a career in nursing)and the topic of an identity moratorium was covered -- where the person "actively searches out various possibilities to find a truly solid adult path". I actually had to write an essay on a topic from the class and I chose the moratorium and covered how I changed my major a few times in college and the different career paths I've been on. I have tried a bit of everything from businss writing to working as a flight attendant. It's good to know that I'm not alone in the detours and I agree with Susan, it is so much more satisfying when it all comes together. However, I can't say I regret it, because I learned a great deal and all my experience helps a ton as I work on getting my novel published.

    This was a wonderful post, thanks for sharing:-)

  16. Ernessa,

    Your path sounds very similar to mine, which at this point, doesn't surprise me. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but tried on a lot of different hats before I got to the novel. But anybody who knows me and reads, Substitute Me, will see a lot of my life adventures in the story. It's not autobiographical in any way, but I sure used a lot of my own adventures trolling around the world to feed the story. So, I think my convoluted path has been the perfect training for my new career as a novelist.

    And even though I have your book, I'd still like an autographed copy, to give as a gift, so please include me in your drawing.

  17. I'm still laughing at Saralee's comment! I always wanted to write, but took a meandering path to becoming a novelist... I worked as a journalist for years first!