I started writing in a canyon in Wichita Falls, Texas. In a matter of months I went from working in global financial services, living in a trendy Seattle neighborhood, to being a stay-at-home mom living in the Bible Belt. I went from a Starbucks on every corner to tarantulas, rattle snakes, and scorpions in every corner. Wichita Falls had the highest per capita teenage pregnancy rate and a local pastor whose greatest achievement was getting the "two mommies" book removed from the local library.
I was an outsider.
Wichita Falls is also where I joined the Junior League, where we were listed in the directory under our husband's names. In one meeting, older members argued not to adopt the national logo because "those big city Leagues support Planned Parenthood." The membership wasn't so sure we wanted to be associated with all that.
There I was, desperate for community, finding myself an outsider again.
I had such a hard time envisioning how I would do life in this new world, I occasionally felt I could literally disappear.
Writers Are Ridiculous
I toyed with the idea of writing for almost a year before I gave myself permission to say anything out loud. My first step was confiding in a new friend who was a writer. She provided the encouragement I needed to secretly start writing, stealing away to coffee shops to scribble out the responses to Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron prompts.
After several weeks I revealed my ridiculous new pursuit at the dinner table. My son and daughter were two and four, and in between spooning food into their mouths and swatting their fingers from their noses, I told my husband I was going to write a novel.
No going back now. There were all those words, all out loud and un-take-back-able.
Over pork chops and pesto noodles that I had declared my intention to become ARTISTIC.
But that single commitment was all it took to make writing okay. I dove into the study and practice of writing suddenly and aggressively. I worked at it sometimes 20 hours a week and felt strongly that my life and experience had provided me a message to share, though I had no idea what that message was.
Capturing the Life in Front of Me
Part of why I wrote was to remember my kids’ fleeting childhoods, to capture what I knew I’d forget. But I later learned that I wrote to process life in the canyon. I wrote to connect, to process, to find the lesson, to make meaning from the story.
I wrote what I wanted to read-- true stories of family life in all its chaotic mess and beauty.
Ultimately, I wrote to connect with all those other outsiders who felt the way I did.
After we moved to Arkansas, I got my first print clip, an article in the board of accountancy insert in the local paper. (Despite the writing, I was still a very practical CPA!)
Next, I got an assignment to write an unpaid column online. I could start telling people I was “on deadline”. That made me feel like a real writer.
What Makes the Words Go 'Round?
In 2007, four years after I started writing, I got my first paid gig.
After that things moved quickly.
My first magazine clip, in local parenting magazine Peekaboo.
More freelance work.
100s of essays.
Managing editorial teams.
Consulting on content strategy.
ALMOST getting that job to write for Hoda and Kathy Lee’s 4th hour of the Today Show, but not qualifying because I couldn’t figure out how to get the live feed in my timezone. AGH!
Building One Country.
It's not about money, but commitment and valuing yourself and your work. Things move quickly when you value them.
Whether your goal is to entertain, make money, further your cause, or simply connect with people who can benefit from the lessons in your stories can help, treating your work with respect and commitment is the only way your life experiences can go from amusing anecdotes to stories that serve.
Commitment changes you. It takes you from outsider to insider. That's powerful.
That's why I wiggle my fingers over keyboard.
Everyone needs a Wild and Crazy Why. What's yours?