My writing journey used to look a lot like this:
. (nothing, nothing, la la la la la)
Because until I was in my thirties, I didn't see myself as a writer; I was a voracious reader who'd once imagined becoming a popular novelist, but never did much of anything to make that happen. Took one writing class in high school. Bought one How to Write Romance Novels! guidebook. Filled a spiral-bound notebook with a story about a young woman in a failing marriage while I was a young woman in a failing marriage.
At 30, newly single and with two young children, I put myself into college. At first I thought I'd major in psychology but, after a semester, saw that sociology was the better fit. While I'm fascinated by human behavior, I didn't want to spend my days with troubled people; I knew I had too much empathy, too much imagination. I knew that I'd never leave their problems at the office.
Sociology: the study of social systems, groups, dynamics, institutions. Race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, justice. My concentration was cultural anthropology, and I studied physical anthro, too. I loved it, and as I approached my final semester with a 4.0 GPA in place and my new membership in Phi Beta Kappa (not to mention a new husband and two stepsons), I had my eye on a fellowship for my PhD. This is when Fate intervened: my last semester included an English class taught by a Real Published Author who, upon reading the short story I wrote for my term paper, told me I had it. You know, IT, that thing (whatever it is) that enables some people to imagine a thing and write it down in a sort of interesting, possibly compelling way.
I wanted to believe him. So, with my husband's encouragement, I took a year off to write Mostly Readable: a novel. Tried to find an agent. Collected rejections. Revise, rinse, repeat.
That Real Published Author of my undergrad program said, maybe take a writing workshop. I said, maybe I'll go to grad school for an MA in English and a creative writing concentration! Maybe I'll get a teaching assistantship so that I can get paid (a very little, tiny amount of money) to learn cool things AND to write a novel! Fate said, "Sure, and by the way, the school may be getting an MFA program; you could transfer into that." So I did.
The other thing I did: write, write, write, write, read, read, read, write, write. Then my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Then my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. I dropped classes. My father-in-law passed away. Shortly after, my mom came to stay with me; radiation daily, chemo weekly, drugs, doctors; not much writing, reading only medical stuff, not much sleep. Three months into her stay here, she died, and everything really, really sucked for a while.
To be a novelist, to have a writing career, you have to be motivated by something more powerful than all the forces working against your success. Writing, even when you love it, is hard. Getting an agent is hard. Selling a novel is hard. Rejection is hard, bad reviews suck, deadline pressure is intense. What motivates me, foremost? Mortality.
Life is uncertain and, even when long, almost always too short.(This is my forearm; the kanji is a Japanese proverb that translates as, Each moment, only once.)
So, I finished my MFA program with a completed, defended novel in hand. I found a fantastic agent--but we didn't sell the novel. I wrote another novel (Souvenir) and my agent sold it, at auction, and ultimately to ten different publishers here and abroad. To quote a line from near the end of my second published novel, Reunion: "It was a good start."
I emphasize, however, that it was only a start. Review copies of Exposure, my third novel, are arriving in mailboxes this week. Will it be well-received, well-reviewed? My film agent continues to field interest; will someone make an offer? The topic is timely: teen love and sexting. The story, inspired by my own son's arrest, is very close to my heart. Will readers love it? Will it sell well? Will I make my next deadline? Will I figure out hashtags, re-tweets, Facebook Pages? Will that dog stop emailing me?
I don't know. You never know whether the future will bring catastrophe or grace. But if you have an ambition or dream, of any kind, don't let that stop you from trying to achieve it.
Therese Fowler is the author of Souvenir, Reunion, and, coming May 3rd, Exposure. She has worked in the U.S. Civil Service, managed a clothing store, lived in the Philippines, had children, sold real estate, earned a B.A. in sociology, sold used cars, returned to school for her MFA in creative writing, and taught college undergrads about literature and fiction-writing -- roughly in that order. With books published in nine languages and sold world-wide, Therese writes full-time from her home in Wake Forest, NC, which she shares with her husband, four amiable cats, and four nearly grown-up sons.