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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Numero uno

I get a lot of e-mail from readers who want to be writers, but they're not sure how to get started. I thought it would be interesting if we all shared how we wrote that first novel.

Here's how I did it. In 1990, I was 20 years old. I'd just taken a college creative writing class and caught the bug to write. I'd taken plenty of writing classes before, but they were taught by short story writers. This one was taught by a novelist, so she required us to turn in chapters of a novel as our final project. That's what hooked me. I've never been sent by a short story. Novels send me, and I was finally writing what I wanted to read.

When the class ended, I didn't want to stop. Unfortunately, I graduated from college and had to get a job. Although my major was English, not journalism, I found myself with a copyediting job at the major newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama's capital. This was about an hour's drive from my apartment. It was also an evening shift, 3 p.m. to midnight, because the paper was a morning paper. (Let's not even talk about my weekends, which were Tuesday and Wednesday. Party on.) So here's what my day looked like:

8 a.m. Get up, shower.

8:30 Type what I'd written the day before on a TYPEWRITER. I kid you not. Computers were exorbitant back then. You'll be happy to know the experience of typing an entire 100,000-word novel on a typewriter, then revising it and typing the whole thing AGAIN, did drive me to buy my first computer before I finished my second novel.

9:30 Write, LONGHAND, with breaks to buy food and pantyhose. Yes, people still wore pantyhose to work back then. The pantyhose were the bane of my existence, besides the typewriter.

1 Change into work clothes.

1:30 Drive to work.

3 Work

4 "Dinner" break. We took it so early because the night would get increasingly crazy as the reporters hit deadline and the stories rolled in for copyediting. The other copyeditors often would go to dinner together. I couldn't afford this, and I also saw this time as precious. I would bring a peanut butter sandwich and go sit on the steps of one of the state government buildings surrounding the newspaper office--my favorite was the state capitol--and write some more. It was during one of these hours in the hot late afternoon of summer, sitting on the steps of the Alabama Forestry Commission building, that I finished my first novel and immediately wrote the first page of my second.

5 Work.

12 Drive.

1 Sleep.

8 a.m. Start over.

Yes, I did sometimes hang out with my friends rather than writing during the middle of the day--but not often, because they were still in college classes. And no, I didn't watch TV. I didn't have one. I was spartan, baby, and loving it. I really did get a lot of joy out of writing, which is why I'm still doing it, right now, at the kitchen table, at 4:30 in the morning before my son gets up.

That's my story. What's yours?

Jennifer Echols


Kelly Parra said...

Great story, Jenn!

I was pregnant when I caught the reader bug. Staying home all big and lonely, I dived into books and decided to try and write one myself after my baby was born. :) Being a big fan of Nora's, I'd heard about RWA and joined up. I joined on-line chapters and a local sister chapter and took classes. I learned all about writing romance over the 'net, as well as story structure, characterization, editing, and then query writing and searching for an agent. If it weren't for the 'net and lots of determination, I would never had written and finally sold that first novel!

jennifer echols said...

I had a similar experience in the second wave. I wrote by myself and tried to get published by myself for a long time, joined RWA before the internet was well established (when you could get up and go refill your coffee and come back before a page loaded). Got a "good rejection" (we almost bought this book) while I was pregnant, which stopped me writing until the baby was 2. But when I started again, I rejoined RWA, and that made all the diff.

So even though my computer died Friday and I had to spring for a new one that refuses to communicate with my old printer...yay technology!!!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I've always been obsessed with reading and writing. As long as I can remember. I went to Young Authors conferences in grade school. I started a lit mag in high school (Our school had one, but it was a pretentious, you have to know people to get your stuff published thing, called Crest. We called ours Crust and published anything we thought was genuine. I know, big rebels.) along with writing a bunch of 'zines, one of which got me published in the book Zine Scene at 16. But I thought I better go to college to pursue a real career. I dropped out after a year to write, but learned quickly that being the lone wolf writer isn't very useful, you need people to motivate you. So I went back to college specifically for Fiction Writing and ended up getting my BA and MFA so I had five solid years of working a variety of part time jobs and reading and writing. That's basically when I really became a writer and developed discipline to write around work and most importantly found a network of fellow writers!
Phew, longest comment ever!

jennifer echols said...

Steph, that's a great story! And a great point about Crest/Crust. I think a lot of people are put off by the pretention of some writers and teachers. When I decided to ignore that attitude and keep an open mind, I was finally able to write what I wanted to read.