My Writing Journey

I am a writer. I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old and penned my first poem about a pony. I vividly remember going to the library back then,  choosing a book, reading it and deciding, “Hey, I want to do this.”

Poems to short books about animals all through grade school. A fantasy about a unicorn in junior high. Angsty love poems in high school. I continued to write. I went to university and majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing. My MBA father was just thrilled, let me tell you. “What the hell are you going to do with an English degree?” I heard on numerous occasions. “I don’t’ know,” I’d say. “Talk good.”

Needing a job while I went to the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!) I tired of bussing tables (I wasn’t even good enough to wait tables, I just cleaned them off), so I decided to substitute teach. My aunts were teachers, my step-mom was a teacher. My maiden name was Pedego, so pedagogy must have run in my blood somewhere. I resisted teaching for as long as I could, denying I’d ever be a teacher. But I loved that substitute job, and I thought I had a knack for it.

I got my English degree, and low and behold my dad was right. I couldn’t do much with it. I tried to get on at local newspapers but had no luck. I applied at regional magazines, but nothing. I applied for internships at large studios in L.A. Nada. Through university I’d written lots of short stories and plays, even had one produced at a community theater in Lawrence, KS, but I didn’t know a damn thing about what to do with anything after I wrote it. Who should I send it to? How would I market it? And back in those days, Google didn’t exist, so basically everyone, including myself, wandered through life with questions swimming through their heads, aimless and confused.

So I went back to school and got my teaching certificate for English 7-12th grades and got my masters in English at the same time. I wasn’t giving this whole talking thing up. For my MA thesis, I was given the option to write a novel, which I did. I had three academic advisers for my thesis. One loved it! “This is great! You should take this to Hollywood! It’s amazing!” One hated it and made me cry. “This is kindergarten writing. I can’t believe we let stuff like this in our program. Can you have any more comma splices?” And the other never said a word about it. It passed, so that was good.

I didn’t know how to get to Hollywood and who to give my script to, so I decided to teach to earn a living while I figured it out.

I taught and enjoyed it. And I wrote and blindly sent manuscripts off to editors and agents in the Writer’s Market, which I bought yearly. I received rejection slip after rejection slip, but saved all of them like badges of honor. Hey, a major publishing house had looked at my manuscript. I was making progress!

Then I had an “agent” offer to sell one of my fantasy novels for me. He requested $400 for copying and postage fees and that seemed reasonable. I was thrilled! I was psyched! I was conned! After several months of no activity and no contact, I realized I’d been screwed. These were the days before Preditors and Editors as well as other blogs and forums you can check to see if someone is legit or not. He had been in the Writer’s Market, so I’d assumed he’d been on the up and up.

I was devastated, and did the worst thing I could have done. I stopped writing. In 1997, I stopped writing. I’d been writing and learning and practicing my craft and figuring out query letters and all of that on my own for years, but I felt this was a sign from the universe, that I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t deserve it or that I should just stop wasting my time and give it up. So I did.

I ended up falling in love and moving to Canada in 2001. I hadn’t written for three years, but thought that maybe I could send that manuscript off to some Canadian markets. I did. No luck.

I had to wait for immigration and teaching certificates to transfer, so I had a period of about 5 years where I couldn’t teach, so my husband and I started an eBay business that turned into an eCommerce business and did really well for a time. For that period I learned basic business strategies, marketing and promotions.

I thought about writing, but just didn’t have the guts or the energy to put into it.

One of my imaginary friends, aka online friends, started trying to write. In the back of my mind I wanted to email her not to bother, it’s too hard, it’s not worth it, go do something else. But I didn’t. I read her emails about craft and publishing and marketing and branding.

Eventually I was legal to teach again, and this time rather than teaching English, I taught business communications, marketing and management at a community college.

But the writing bug was still calling me. I had a few story ideas that were fighting to get out. So I started writing. In 2010 after a 13 year dry spell, I wrote again.

My imaginary friend suggested I join the RWA and the local chapter for the support. So I thought, what the heck, and I did.

I was laid off from the community college last year, and took the time to finish my book. And throughout the process, my group has offered writing retreats, workshops, guest speakers, education sessions, agent pitch meetings and more. I have brainstorming partners that have helped me over tough spots where I’d written myself into a corner. We have a goals forum where we encourage and celebrate each others’ writing goals and successes. Women in my group have critiqued my work for me and helped me make it better. And we talk marketing, submissions, writing, failures, reviews and on and on. My group has been priceless.

Writing seems like it would be a very solitary experience, but I’ve found my writing group to be invaluable. I’ve been in my group for less than three years and was offered my first book contract in April. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’d tried my entire adult life to get published and in less than three years with this group, was able to do so.

Recently I started my own book promo website www.trindiebooks.com which promotes Kobo eBooks. I got the idea from women in my group and investors from women in my group. While I work on promo spots for other writers, sometimes they email asking for advice, and what I’ve said the most is: Find a group.

Writing is a solo exercise, but the networking and connections, the help and support, the advice and the wealth of knowledge that others have to offer is precious. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Thanks RWAC! Group hug!

(lt to rt: Lori Robitaille, Michelle Helliwell, Linda Atkinson, Tara MacDonald, Sara HubbardKelly Boyce , moi, Annette Gallant, and Nikki Figueiredo)

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8 Responses to My Writing Journey

  1. JULIANNE MACLEAN says:

    wONDERFUL STORY, sHAWNA – VERY INSPIRING! wE ARE HAPPY TO HAVE YOU IN THE GROUP WITH US 🙂

  2. What a great post. I think my comments are in permanent caps. uh oh.

    congrats on being a great writer. all this time has passed for you to gain experience and reach this moment. here’s to more future success!

  3. Congratulations on your recent contract and for getting there through such a long journey. We’re happy to have you with RWAC!

  4. Shawna says:

    Thanks! Don’t give up Anne. Giving up cost me 13 years of writing. If I ever see Mark Maine of AAA Literary in a dark alley… well anyway..

  5. Shawna says:

    If you Google him, Anne, one of the top hits is a blog called Agents from Hell. He’s listed as “not recommended” on Preditors and Editors. Definitely avoid.

  6. lOVE YOUR POST sHAWNA … I HAD NO IDEA THAT YOU WENT THROUGH THAT EARLY ON … BUT YOU NEVER GAVE UP AND THAT’S WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT!!!!!

  7. Renee Field says:

    Great blog Shawna. That’s exactly how i feel. So connected and the support has been great – especially through those dry spells. Write on!

  8. It was nice learning about you! What an inspiring blog post!

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