Write Along Beside Me (a long post about getting started)

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(Image from Edie Melson)

(Image from Edie Melson)

“How’d you get started with your writing? And how’d you get published?”

I finally decided to blog about my writing detour since I’ve been asked these questions so many times.

A lot of people write, so I’m not unusual in that regard. A lot of people get published, so I’m not unusual there either. I am a little unusual, however, in that I’ve been published sans a degree in English or journalism and without initially knowing anyone in the writing industry.

Getting published is challenging enough with a degree and with connections, so, without either one, how’d it come about?

God’s been all over it, of course, but that’s not what people are asking about. Most of us know we don’t accomplish anything without him by our side. The fact is, though, for writing and publication to happen, we have to be all over it too.

I never intended to be a writer. I intended to open my own counseling practice. It wasn’t until a friend talked me out of my plan that I changed direction. She said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit all day in an office and listen to others’ problems.”

Here’s what she didn’t say, but probably wanted to, “You have enough problems of your own. Don’t be a counselor.”

Around that same time, two things were going on.

The first: I was studying Experiencing God, a Bible study about paying attention to where God’s working in our lives.

The second: It didn’t matter where I was, who I was talking with, or what we were talking about, family, friends, and strangers would out-of-the-blue say, “You should write about that.”

So, I did.

I wrote a book about raising teenagers. I was sure readers wanted to get their hands on a poorly written account of drama, bragging, and preaching. I didn’t get ahold of my writing or myself until a neighbor volunteered to read the 100-page manuscript. She returned it with tire marks on the pages because the day she picked it up, she drove off with it on the back of her car and it blew all over the highway. She handed it to me, apologized about the dirty pages, and said, “I let a writer friend look over it. She said you might want to swim in a pool before you try the ocean. You know, maybe write for magazines and newspapers before you try for a book, but I really like the quotes you included.”

In that moment, I felt determined to learn the craft of writing. I thought, “I’ll show her.”

The problem is, it’s a long, laborious process to proving someone wrong when it comes to writing right. Or should that read “writing well”? Anyway, it took time, but I eventually progressed from misguided motivation and showed up to do what I thought God had in mind all along. He flung open the doors. I’ve written hundreds of articles and blog posts that have been published in dozens of local, regional, and national publications. I’ve also had the opportunity to ghostwrite for local, regional, and international personalities.

Your story will be different, but all writing requires much of the same footwork. Hopefully this encourages you to show up and do the hard (and very rewarding) work of writing for yourself, for God, and for readers who need to hear your stories.

Here’s a little about my story and some bullet points to go along with it.

I drove to Greenville, S.C. to attend my first writing workshop about writing and illustrating children’s books. I had written a book for children some years earlier as part of an assignment for a counseling class. Since a friend took the time to forward the information about the event, I imagined it was a sign that the book would arouse attention. Instead of a book contract, I ended up with a flyer about classes on newspaper and magazine writing (you know, poolside writing before the ocean). The instructor was an editor in Greenville who had written for major publications like the New York Times.

For six weeks, I drove four and a half hours one-way to learn how to write right. The editor/instructor announced she needed freelance writers for three regional newspapers. When she didn’t publish me before Christmas, I signed up for six more classes. The second time around, not only did she publish my first article, she assigned me a column in all three papers, and hooked me up with other publications in Upstate S.C.

“There are two kinds of writers – writers who are bad and writers who keep learning,” she said. Here’s a list of things I do to avoid falling prey to “bad writer.”

  • Attend classes, conferences, and workshops. Last year, I returned to Greenville for another six-week class.
  • Find a mentor. I paid for critiques, as well as insider tips about being accepted by publications like LifeWay, from a well-known writer who presented at a conference I attended.
  • Blog regularly. Okay, so I blog irregularly, but do as I say.
  • Sign up for writing sites that post jobs daily. Continue to submit writing samples and clips for assignments that fit my writing style and my interests.
  • Familiarize myself with magazines and submit writing samples for publication.
  • Read inspirational books like The Artist’s Way and informational ones like The Associated Press Stylebook. Read blogs about writing, social networking, marketing, and sound business practices by people like Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, Steve Laube, and Edie Melson.
  • Connect with other writers, mostly online and in critique groups, but also in local networking groups, workshops, and at conferences.
  • Drive to Wilmington, N.C. to meet with a critique group for information, improvement, and encouragement. I cherish, instead of challenge, their feedback, then I return home and edit. My editor/instructor reminded us again and again, “Writing is rewriting.”
  • Write and submit stories. Sounds obvious, right? I can’t tell you how many writer friends I talk with who either aren’t writing or have never submitted a story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I was a writer when I wasn’t writing.
  • I sometimes drag myself out of my comfort zone and write something that makes me uncomfortable.

Are you up for an encounter with writing?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – If so, get ready for a beautiful, frustrating, gratifying, scary, procrastinating, delightful, angering, exhilarating, disheartening, uplifting, and life-changing experience that I wouldn’t trade for any other career. I’d love to hear about your experience on paper.

On the side: A great read about writing right, The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers by Jeff Goins.

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9 responses »

  1. The photograph for this post caught my eye. It was the pen and journal and the part about “getting started” that made me read on. My creativity had been stifled for a bit with the major life changing event that set up a detour. Now that phase “S” is complete and the big “D” will be scheduled for the summer of 2015, it’s time to move forward. I will dig out my notes from an article about how-to organize a poetry collection into a book, and I plan to go the self-publishing route. 2015 will be the start of a “new chapter” in my life!

    After I originally found your blog, I clicked on the link about Jeff Goins and proceeded to take his on-line writing class. It is truly amazing how you end up with such a support group of other writers at so many different stages of the writing process. You never know who will inspire or encourage you in some way or another. Kim, you have also been an inspiration. Thank you~

    • Sylvia, I know emotional events can slow down our creativity for a time, but I’ve found that in the long run, they make us stronger and more passionate writers. I’ve seen that in your haikus. I’m so happy you found Jeff Goins. He’s an inspiration, for sure. Keep writing, my friend. You have a gift.

  2. Kim, I love your writing his…”story!” I try to tell people who want to write that they have to learn the craft just as you have to learn other crafts. Of course, I think there has to be the passion to write also. I keep telling people I am a writer but I have not written anything for publication for quite some time. I blog irregularly and post on fb heart messages, but I want to get more serious about my writing. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Thanks so much for your encouraging comment, Mary Sue. I’m not sure how I missed it last year … yikes! Just deleting emails and I saw that I never approved it for my blog. I guess you can tell I’m a little behind on a few things. 🙂 Writing takes so much time to learn and even more time to wrestle ourselves into a chair to accomplish it … at least that’s been my story. Good luck with your writing! I love that we’re on this journey together.

  3. Well said, Kim … and well written. And getting started is what you do every day as a writer. You get up and you start again. You finish one article (or book) and you start another one. And so it goes. And fear? Well, it comes and goes too … and it can become what fuels your writing, not what snuffs the words out.

  4. Well, THAT was interesting. Just when you think you’re getting to know someone you realize you have no clue – other than you share common interests, joyful spirits (most of the time!) and a desire to want to meet.

    You have walked a path that I’m eager to trod. I’ve wanted to submit to magazines for years, keep buying books on how-to, and attending conference classes on it, with ZERO follow-up! I started going to writing conferences about eight years ago b/c I felt I was being directed to do so. I had no plan. I didn’t have the crazy passion for it that I saw everywhere in those conference arenas – although that enthusiasm is VERY contagious. And while I’ve always had an interest in writing and have done projects that have been dropped in my lap, every time I would ask God why I was at those conferences the only answer I heard back was “to learn.” Now I have an agent interested in a non-fiction book project that I proposed over a dinner, and I am procrastinating on the book proposal b/c I’m paralyzed by my ignorance. I sent one in based on guidelines she gave me, knowing I needed her feedback and that revisions would be necessary. And I was right. So I have further suggestions, and I was hoping to get all the revisions done over this long weekend. It’s 5:30 p.m. with only one day left – not so “long” anymore! I sat down to try again on it, and decided to read your blog instead. Slap! Just the little refocus/reminder I need to take my ignorant self back to the task and keep plugging! :-))

    • Shel, that is so exciting to have an interested agent! I’ve heard so often from editors and agents that they’ll ask for an article or manuscript and never get it. Seemed unbelievable to me until I dropped the ball, then not so unbelievable anymore. Fear can be paralyzing, but I think most people in the business are understanding of our muddling through as long as we do our parts. If they’re not understanding, then they’re probably not someone we want to work with anyway. Good luck completing the proposal and pressing send. You certainly have a gift for writing so keep on going. I’d love to hear more about your project as you progress with it.

      Love our many, many, many shared dreams and common interests and deepening friendship and etc. etc. etc. ❤

  5. Comments from Facebook ~

    Theresa Jordan, Joan Pisani, Dana Johnson and 21 others like this.

    5 shares

    Anjana C. Duff Love it! The process is very similar to selling travel – or to building a business of any kind. It doesn’t just happen. The fundamentals are the same, just the product is different. It takes commitment, discipline and perseverance. It is a constant process of learning, participating, and doing. Good for you! I’m proud of you! P.S. I still hope to help you edit the funny book that I know is in you and that you’ll write one of these day.
    November 22 at 8:35am · Unlike · 1

    Mary McKerihan Wilson This is great! I think you just explained why I ‘m not writing that book. I’ve already put a lifetime into learning my craft in another field and am reluctant to put the same effort into starting over in another field. I do have a Masters Degree in English–which means nothing.
    November 22 at 8:45am · Unlike · 1

    Gloria Penwell Great blog.
    November 22 at 10:04am · Like

    Jenine Marie This is great Kim Henson !! Ok, this is what I decided I need. Come to my place, make coffee in the morning, shove me into the direction of the shower, stuff breakfast down my throat, sit me at my computer at the desk, and chain me to the chair. Maybe, and then I say MAYBE, I will have motivation in me to do what people say I should have done all along. :-0 . Editors have told me to write a book. Friends and family have asked me “where is that book”? Ive read “How to write a book in a weekend”? (good luck for me on this one!). Bottom line, MOTIVATION. For me, I have to WANT it bad enough to actually DO-IT. Then I enter into the “land of good intentions”. OH-MY-GOSH, I don’t like that place very well! I come out of the suburbs of good intentions feeling like I failed because I got sucked into the black hole of procrastination! <–no need to revisit that subject, got that one down! LOL. So…….here is sit, writing on facebook. Hmmmmmmmmm<—can you see me pondering this little paradox ?
    November 22 at 10:23am · Unlike · 1

    Linda Saelg Calvanico It's not as easy as it looks! You have a talent and passion!
    November 22 at 7:43pm · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Anjana C. Duff. You're right, this post can be applied to any career, and probably to any aspect of our lives (like relationships and finances) that is a priority, a passion, and worth our time. That funny book may be closer than we think.
    November 23 at 12:48am · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Mary McKerihan Wilson, trust me, that masters degree does not mean nothing. There is an editor of a well-known newspaper (I can't remember its name … it'll come to me about 3 a.m.) who will only publish writers if they have a degree in English or journalism. It counts in the world of publication and it counts in your writing. You write well. I had to learn that first.
    November 23 at 12:53am · Like · 1

    Jocelyn Wilhelm Sharing! Thanks for that article.
    November 23 at 1:06am · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks, Jocelyn Wilhelm, Just saw where you shared it.
    November 23 at 1:10am · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks, Gloria Penwell. Big compliment considering your background.
    November 23 at 1:11am · Like

    Kim Henson Jenine Marie, i could turn your comment into my next blog post and title it "Why That Book's Not Already Written." Hmmm, here I am on FB. We'll encourage each other enough, or maybe we should go with guilt. Whatever works, we'll get 'er done. I just know it!
    November 23 at 1:15am · Edited · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Linda Saelg Calvanico. I do have a passion for writing. I sure wish that was all it took. Love you and your encouragement.
    November 23 at 1:17am · Like

    Gloria Penwell Kim, I don't do much except encourage new writers. That was Dan's heart as well.
    November 23 at 10:00am · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson You encourage well, Gloria Penwell. Thank you.
    November 23 at 11:50pm · Like · 1

    Sylvia Jones Posted to your blog…
    November 23 at 11:55pm · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Sylvia Jones. Going to check out comments as soon as I stop getting distracted. I've been headed over there all afternoon.
    November 24 at 12:09am · Like · 1

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