Many years ago, when I was teaching English and creative writing to high school students, I attended a creative workshop for teachers “up East” where we learned fresh approaches to teaching writing. More importantly for me, it turned out, was the encouragement to write a story of my own.
I remember sitting on a bench in the sun, writing in longhand about a secret my mother had told me, one that if she were living, I would never have attempted to write about, let alone share. I couldn’t get the words down fast enough, and I cried when I finished it. I didn’t know then that my stories would hardly ever feel “finished”; they always, always go through many drafts.
When we shared our stories in the workshop, I wasn’t nervous. I was learning that a trusted cohort, even one of strangers, can be a blessed space. When I read my short story at the gathering on the last night, I was stunned when everybody stood and applauded. I wondered if people were taken with my Southern drawl or just surprised that a forty-something teacher from Mississippi could put together a decent narrative. It was heady yet sobering stuff, and I began to wonder: could I really do this thing called writing?
That remained a question for a long time. After I retired from teaching, I read everything I could get my hands on about craft. I participated in as many workshops, conferences, and residencies as money allowed. Over the years, I managed to get published here and there, but I’ll confess I had little ambition to do more. I don’t regret those years. I couldn’t have written those stories outside the context of my then-life. It took time, experience, and some heartbreak before my stories could come together in a collection that was published in 2015. And now? I have a novel coming out in 2024. That little miracle is still sinking in!
So here we are, thinking about this writing life. You may look at my productivity or the lack of it and scratch your head: only a handful of published stories and two books to show for a lifetime of work. No MFA. No Big Five publisher. No agent. No big advance.
That’s okay. The thing is, my journey matters and so does yours.
Some of you may be starting to figure out this writing thing, or maybe you’ve already achieved more success quickly than I have in a lifetime. Maybe you juggle writing, jobs, and families. Maybe you struggle with disappointments and circumstances that hold you back. Maybe some of you are like me: the late bloomers, into your second or third act, the women who have worn many different hats in your lives, and you’ve come late to the writing party.
Remember: it’s never too late. Find your voice. Make it sing.