Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Emerging Author Seeks Advice...

Deb McLeod Emerging Author Seeks Advice blog
By Deb McLeod

Recently I got an email from an emerging author seeking advice. She asked me:
"What do you do when your head and your parents tell you to take the safe road into a job but your heart and your sister who reads everything you write, and your teachers, tell you to pursue writing as a career?"
She’s young, about to graduate in a few weeks. She’s writing a story and her sister thinks it’s good. She’s convinced she can make it as author. At a crossroads, she asks me for advice. Should she write, or should she become a practical young adult? Last time she pursued writing, it caused a rift with her parents.

Is this one of the oldest coming of age questions? What does it take to dedicate yourself to your art? What if you’re one of the ones who doesn't make it? Should you try or should you give it up and join the ranks of the gainfully employed and the owner of a healthy retirement plan?

Though I can’t possibly answer this question for someone else, I used to say to potential clients who were on the fence: if you hate sitting down to write more than you love having written, then walk away.

If you can NOT write, then that’s what you should do. Writing is time consuming, brain consuming and if you don’t have a healthy stipend, you’re going to end up doing both: making money and stealing moments to write. If you can walk away and writing doesn't eat at you, then take the road more traveled. It’s easier.

I tried to do both. As a late bloomer, I lived the dichotomy of wants and shoulds. I held jobs just to make money. I forced myself to work and tried to summon the energy to write before, after, even during. I wrote in the middle of the night when my daughter was small; it was the only time I had for myself. I dictated into a tape recorder on my hour-long commutes each day where I worked a 60+ hour a week job. Then I typed and edited transcripts on the weekends.

Deb McLeod Emerging Author Seeks AdviceI am happiest when I’m writing.

I have student loans – both mine and my daughter’s. I've only amassed a small 401k. Because being flush never meant getting ahead. Being flush meant getting time off to write.

There is the book I’m about to finish – an accomplishment I've worked hard for. There are all my like-minded friends. All the groups I’m a part of. The annual conferences I attend. The teachers who've shared with me. The encouragement. The discouragement. The downright petty. The competition, the frustration, the insecurity.

I have also felt the absolute silence at a reading when the audience is lost in my story.

I am at peace when I’m writing.

When I’m sad, I turn to a writing project. When I’m happy, I turn to a writing project. When I get something accepted I’m in bliss. When I leave critique, I want to quit.

I’m most passionate when I’m writing.

When I had to work and couldn't write, I wasn't very pleasant. My daughter learned there were times I wasn't available, by my own choice, not by necessity. My neighbors would say that injured her. My artist friends would say it taught her reality.

My husband is aware of the part of me that’s always writing. That I’m often a little aloof. A little removed while I’m mulching a story.

I can talk endlessly about writing and craft and books and process. But I’m stymied at a Tupperware party, bored with volunteer positions at my daughter’s school, disgusted with politics at work and I have nothing in common with my neighbors.

I’m happiest when I’m writing.

My father wanted to be a musician. He was a chemist. And he died at age 45. My mother, brought up by immigrant grandparents had her knuckles rapped by the English teacher when she didn't pronounce her words properly. She summoned the courage to ask that teacher if she thought my mother might someday write. The teacher laughed at the thought. So my mother put the idea away. Yet she was the most voracious reader I ever met, reading at least one book a day. Her legacy to me was her library.

What I really want to tell this girl is to jump now, when she’s young. To do nothing else until she fulfills her dream. Because now that my daughter is old enough and I’m established enough to make a living as a writing coach, I am free to write and I've never been happier.

What I really want to tell her is that the choice is personal, the potential for success not guaranteed. Babies come as do mortgages. And saying no to those things is just as bad as saying no to writing. So, marry well. Or win the lottery. Establish your career if you can before you have kids and life sweeps you up and away. It’s a good life either way.

But, truth be told, I’m happiest when I’m writing.

What would you tell her?

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see


  1. Be true to yourself and embrace the juggling act. That's about all anyone can really do. If writing is one's passion, but a good job pays the bills, then both would seem to be necessary, until such a time as writing could pay the bills too.

    1. I completely agree. That is all you can do. And as hard as it is there are many, many rewards along the way. Thanks, M.J.

  2. Also, it sounds like she's dealing with a mom and a sister, and not a spouse or a child. This is the best time for her to take a year or two to do it. It gets so much harder after you start a family.

    1. I remember when I moved to Colorado and joined a large writing group, they had a separate group for published authors. Almost without exception, the women who were in that published group did not have children, or their children were already grown. Priorities shift and juggling gets harder when you start a family. I will be sure to pass this on to her. Thank you.

  3. You've got to have a plan. It will take time for writing to pay, and yes, as you said, 'you've got to pay the bills'. Make a plan, set deadlines... for both writing and work. Priorities do shift, but if you are determined, you can make it happen. Be prepared for setbacks and obstacles, but if it is what you really want don't let anything stop you. Persistence is the key.

    1. Thanks, Link. I'll pass this on. You can make it happen. I agree - you can't let anything stop you.


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