November 30, 2012

Like Santa’s Bag of Presents

Santa's Choice“True, I’ve written a few stories, but I’m not a writer!” Such is the mindset of most beginning writers. In January of this year I posted an interview with author Nancy Pogue LaTurner based on her experience writing her memoir, Voluntary Nomads: A Mother's Memories of Foreign Service Life. I’m happy to welcome her back with this guest post building on the metaphor of Santa Claus as she outlines her writing path from novice to “real writer.”

Before beginning my memoir, Voluntary Nomads, I carried a weight around with me. Like Santa's bag of presents, I hefted my sack of stories. It was full to bursting and I needed to lighten the load by giving these gifts away.

Unlike Santa, with his centuries of expertise and magic delivery system, I worried that I was ill equipped to carry out my plan. When I began the memoir-writing journey, I didn't consider myself a writer. I could have, given my early experience as editor of my elementary and high school newspapers, columnist for my hometown weekly, and jobs throughout my working years that required writing grants, proposals, procedure manuals, and public relations material.

I didn't yet see myself as a "real" writer. Then I took a writing class, the first since college half a century ago. The teacher told us to introduce ourselves by saying, "Hello, my name is So-and-so and I'm a writer." It was embarrassing at first, and I felt like an imposter, but as the class continued over several weeks, I grew to fit the writer's costume and learned more skills to perform the author's role.

Faced with the instructor's scathing critique of my final short story in that class, I almost surrendered my name-tag along with any hopes I had of deserving the title "Writer." However, I surprised myself by having the courage to return to my story with a commitment to make it better. My persistence paid off. That story won a cash prize in an international contest sponsored by SouthWest Writers  and received Honorable Mention in the Writers Digest Magazine annual contest of the same year.

Even though more of my writing won other prizes and earned publication in two volumes of the Albuquerque Almanac and an anthology Wisdom Has a Voice, I still didn't see a real writer when I looked in the mirror. Like a department store Santa's promises, my sleigh full of gifts offered potential rather than actual achievement.

Even so, prizes and publication served as validation and infused me with energy to pursue my desire to make a book of my Foreign Service stories. I took more classes and joined critique groups. In 2009, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) fever ignited the urge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. When I recognized the power of daily writing practice, I made January my own personal writing month and finished my memoir manuscript.

Voluntary Nomads, coverWith the first draft completed, I began a new adventure. On this journey, I learned what it takes to publish a book, and I discovered plenty about myself too. At the beginning of the trip, I couldn't have guessed that I would be able to handle the critical input of an editor, find a publisher, format a manuscript for both print and digital editions, turn color photos into black and white as well as crop and size them for both print and digital reproduction, or carry out the marketing of my final product.

I should have worn a Santa suit to launch my book. On that day, as I signed and distributed my gift of stories, I finally felt like the real thing. I recognized myself as a real writer at last and changed my identity forever.

Nancy Pogue LaTurner plays Santa to three grandsons when they visit her home in Albuquerque where she enjoys retirement with her husband, Fred. Nancy's current writing project is a suspense novel set in New Mexico. Learn more about her on her website and read my review of Voluntary Nomads on Amazon.

Write now: Write a story about your writing journey. If you’ve been writing for years, include some of the blocks you’ve faced and how you overcame them. If you are just beginning, write about your hopes and dreams, and how you will know you are a real writer. Explore elements underlying your belief that you are not yet a real writer. Regardless of your state of maturity as a writer, include your dreams for what you’d like to achieve with your writing.

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