Being a writer

When I started writing, the industry and the rules were totally new to me. Maybe they are to you, too? These next few emails will discuss my last couple of years of trying to be a writer and explain a bit more about what publishing entails. Don’t worry, the backyard animal updates will be back soon enough (spoiler: HERONS)

I started to write in May of 2019, during the summer before my last year of grad school. My mentor had suggested that I take the summer to write and, because I’m very impressionable, I listened. 

Khalil was in daycare all day and David worked out of the house in a co-working space. I had 9 hours to myself Monday to Friday, and devoted 6 of those hours to writing. My energy window is narrow and I Fartlek’d my time — 15 minutes writing and 30 minutes resting. So about 2 productive hours every weekday for those 3 months. (Though, I’d argue that rest is productive, too).

I made a spreadsheet with a list of essays I wanted to write and got started. I wrote about my disability and my wheelchair and what it feels like to parent while disabled. I wrote about some of my scariest days early in my illness. I wrote about old breakups and California adventures. I wrote about living with unremitting pain. 

After finishing about a dozen essays, I sent one off to the Washington Post. I only knew to do that because a dear friend, Amanda, had introduced me to a Facebook community of women and non-binary writers, and through these Facebook groups, I learned a bit about the process of getting essays published. I had zero idea that you were allowed to just write something, email it to a publication, and sometimes they would pay you for it! 

In these groups, people posted often about their rejections. Many successful writers seek to receive 100 rejections a year. 100! Their stories helped me insulate against the inevitable ego blows that I would be setting myself up for if I decided to try to publish. So, I sent off the piece to the Post and, shockingly, they replied! They wanted to buy it! I worked with a thoughtful editor and within a few weeks, I had a byline. (During that time, I wrote another piece that Huffpost published quickly). 

I created another tab on my spreadsheet and started to record when I sent pieces out and when I heard back. I started submitting more essays and, as expected, the rejections started to accumulate. Every one stung, but I expected them. I found that emailing an editor directly was more likely to yield a reply than emailing the main inbox. I added another tab to my spreadsheet: editors’ names and email addresses. 

Late in the summer, when The New York Times picked up a piece about my wheelchair I started to think that, maybe, I could be an actual writer. Maybe I could write a book.

A good friend and brilliant writer, Abby, introduced me to her friend and another writer, Jacqueline who, over facetime, explained the steps to getting a book published. The process was more difficult than I realized and the odds of getting a book deal were much much lower than I had imagined.

But, what’s a number, anyway? I decided to give it a shot.  

Next time, I’ll explain the steps of publishing a book, as I understand it, and reveal where I am in the process. Stay tuned :)