“How Not to Start Writing”
by Elizabeth Lynx
That title explains perfectly how I became a writer. I will admit things in this post I don’t tell a lot of people. In fact, most writers are probably shaking their heads at me thinking it’s best if no one ever knows any of this. Once you read this, you will realize in brilliant black and white, I am not like most writers.
My writing career started in January of 2014. To give you a good idea of how terrible an idea this was for me I will explain exactly what led to my writing career.
I had just moved back to the east coast from Chicago with my husband and two little boys. We wanted to be closer to family. Having such young children (they were one and two years old at the time) it was hard for me to find work. I used to work in printing, but that industry is no longer as strong as it once was and I had taken too long a break from it to be able to jump right back into a job.
Being the type of person who has to do something, preferably creative, as an outlet outside of raising kids, my mind churned with ideas. My major in college was theater and I have many years training in Improv, including The Second City Conservatory program in Chicago. I imagined going back into theater, perhaps a job behind the scenes, but realized that requires odd hours and is not steady work. Not an ideal job for a mother who still had a kid that woke during the night.
Then I read an article about a stay-at-home mom who happened to write erotic romance and made lots of money doing so. If I had been in a cartoon, a light bulb would have flashed over my head. I thought, “I’m a stay-at-home mom, maybe I can write erotic romance too!”
There was just one big problem, I had never read an erotic romance in my life. In fact, I didn’t read all that much. This is the part I don’t often admit to people: I have a learning disability. It’s not that I can’t read, it’s just I get panic attacks. The disability doesn’t cause the attacks, but due to not having a very good relationship with reading growing up, I only read what was necessary to get by in life.
In my very early twenties, I finally picked up a book voluntarily for the first time in my life. If I am going to be honest, it was sheer boredom that brought me to that book, which I think was Jurassic Park. I worked part time over summer break from college in a hotel gift shop. Most of the time I sat there doing nothing. It was a hotel in a suburban town, a half hour from any major city and my bedroom was bigger than the shop space.
With nothing to do and having read all the magazines on display, I picked up that book and didn’t put it down until I was done. Don’t tell my boss but I took the book home to finish and then brought it back to work the next day. I know, I am a criminal and should be locked up for years for my crimes. What do you want, I was barely an adult.
I would like to say that after that experience I suddenly couldn’t stop reading, but sadly no. It was a gradual process and I read off and on over the years. Which brings me back to that article about the stay-at-home mom who became an erotic romance writer. Since I didn’t know about erotic romance (I had read a few romances in my time but nothing steamy), I decided to pick up a few. Guess what? I loved them. Not all of them, mind you, but enough that I really wanted to give it a try.
I did. I wrote my first book, more of a novella, and self-published it in February of 2014 and waited for the money to start rolling in. It’s okay, you can start laughing now. I know. I know. What was I thinking? That I could read a dozen books in my genre, write a book and millions of people would not only find it among the billions of books already out there, but love it and send it to bestsellers list within a month? Yes, I did believe that, because I knew nothing.
As hard and humiliating as that was to live through, I have been through worse – try having an audience member start snoring while you are up on stage performing improv. So, I did as I always do, I set about learning all I could: about writing, about marketing, talking to other authors, all the stuff I should have done long before I hit the publish button.
I learned a lot, but I still felt as if I had to keep who I really was a secret from readers. I couldn’t tell them I had a learning disability, that I have almost no background in writing or reading – other than plays and sketch writing, or that I spent most of my working career in the visual arts – graphic design and photography – and not the literary arts.
What I learned was not just the fundamental principles of writing over the last year and a half, and how to market myself as a writer, but that my background actually became an advantage. I won over people with my wit and comedic mind on Facebook. These people found out I wrote books and read them. In fact, they are some of my first fans.
My knowledge of performance and comedic timing helped me when I wrote my first romantic comedy, Rules of Payne. I use my graphics and photography background to create my own book cover, teasers, and design my own website.
The lesson you should learn from all this is: don’t be like me. Don’t jump head first into something you know nothing about — and expect million dollar results. I did it so you don’t have to. Seriously, just don’t. But DO jump in!
The lesson I learned is that what I thought was a disadvantage for me was actually helpful in so many ways. Growing up with a learning disability has taught me to think on my feet, keep at it when the going gets tough, never assume it will get better but hard work does pay off eventually, and to know what to pay attention to in order to get by.
Now I write because I love it — I can’t imagine my life without it. I read as if my life depends on it, reading more in the past year and half than I have in the forty years before it. Finally, I view my writing as a place to express myself and experiment with ideas, knowing I will never be a perfect writer because there is no such thing. Every writer is constantly learning about their craft, and if I am doing this twenty, thirty, even fifty years down the road, it will still be a work in progress.