To be a writer is to embrace rejection as a way of life.
Over the years, I’ve earned more money from my teaching than my writing, but I remember the day I considered myself a writer and decided to keep scribbling and never abandon an activity that has saved my sanity, brought pleasure and pain, and remains a vital part of who I am.
A Ticket To Write
The morning is a brilliant blue with a fresh sea breeze and cliched cottonwool clouds. The dog barks her annoyance at a piercing whistle from a city bound train and from my bedroom window, I watch an envelope flop into the letterbox as the postman pedals past.
Gently, I restrain two-year-old Anne’s ebullient rush outside. This ritual, a highlight of her morning. She loves the challenge of turning the key, opening the Perspex door and retrieving the letters while I hold her aloft as her dainty feet brush the agapanthus and geraniums.
I wonder if she notices my seesawing moods during this ritual: excited anticipation, then wistfulness.
Today, I stare at the black letters on the solitary white business envelope, a distinctive logo bold and embossed. I breathe deeply; try to remain calm. Oh, to be Superman with x-ray vision.
Anne, usually adept at opening the letterbox, fumbles today. My legs begin a nervous tremble – a premonition (or hope) pumps blood through my heart to pulse in already throbbing ears. The clear air seems lighter like my head; the scent of nearby lavender and sturdy eucalypts keeping me focused as I concentrate on Anne’s voice delightfully chanting, ‘Here Mummy… only one ‘vope.’
‘Thank you darling.’ I playfully pat her bottom as I set her on the ground, ‘Mummy’ll race you inside.’ This usual conclusion of our journey to the mailbox, one I always lose.
I pretend to run and keep one eye on the toddling fairy while ripping the envelope open. A cheque, attached to a With Compliments slip from The Herald & Weekly Times, flutters free.
I stare at the slip of paper worth $60.00. Blood rushes to my face and at that moment the world changes. Closing my eyes, I cross into a world only visited in dreams. Someone values what I wrote – enough to pay me for it. ‘I’m a published writer!’ I whisper to the plants not expecting a response like Prince Charles, but I need an audience! I babble the significance of the news to Anne, wishing she could understand more than ‘Mummy is very happy.’ She just giggles and laughs as I sweep her into my arms and swirl and twirl into the house, desperate to telephone John.
My husband’s joy palpable, ‘I knew you’d be published. I’m going out now to buy several copies from the newsagents. Well done, I’m so proud of you.’ A few minutes later, John rings to say my story isn’t in the current issue.
I had sent it six weeks ago – when was it published? I check the ‘with compliments’ slip for a hint, but no luck. I ring my parents who are regular readers of the newspaper. It had been Dad who’d encouraged me to send a story to their fiction section. He answers the phone, happy and proud, ‘I’ll buy extra copies of the edition.’
‘That’s if, I ever find out, which one it is Dad. They pay on publication, but it’s not in this week’s.’
I ring the newspaper to find out when, or if, my story has been published. The receptionist off-hand, ‘If you’ve received a cheque then it’s already been published.’
I contemplate ringing Dad again; hoping their recycled papers hadn’t been collected, but Mum rings me before I can dial. Great minds think alike! She’d retrieved the paper from the recycle bin. The story published two weeks earlier.
Mum reads every page of newspapers or magazines meticulously. I learn an important lesson – people read the words – the author’s name may not be noticed or remembered!
That was 1987 when I’d abandoned full-time paid work to be a mother. A confidante to my dreams, John encouraged me to write while I ‘had the time and opportunity.’ Only a man (or non-writer) could make that statement, but I am grateful he valued and encouraged me to write.
The administrative position I held in a busy parish office prior to motherhood hadn’t left much energy for creative writing, although the constant stream of people seeking help and advice fired my imagination, as did church political intrigue. The relentless work of a new baby, breastfeeding on demand and apparently only needing occasional twenty-five minute catnaps throughout very long days and nights didn’t do much for energy levels either! However, I did find time to scribble and polish some words and my imagination never switched off.
I had been writing for years gaining publication of poems and articles at school, university and church magazines, but never actually developing the confidence to send a piece off to a commercial publisher. At work, I was the one people asked to write doggerel on special occasions, or help to write letters. I had the reputation amongst family and friends of being ‘good with words,’ but regarded as a hobby writer. No one saw my writing as a serious career choice – not even me!
The desire to write led me to subscribe to a writing magazine. I read every article I could on the craft of writing. John, a trade union official had long irregular working hours, so attending a writing group, or writing class impossible for me to schedule. I noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for The Writing School. The correspondence course not cheap, but they guaranteed to refund your money if you did not recoup the fee from paid published work by the time you finished the course. Most importantly, it was self-paced with no time limit for finishing the course. What did I have to lose? John gave me the enrolment fee as an early birthday present.
One of the first exercises was to write a story under 800 words based on a character study. My effort returned with positive comments and a couple of punctuation suggestions and the advice to ‘find the story a home’.
Dad, a frustrated writer himself, always encouraged me to write. His love of poetry and frequent recitals of favourite poems made me love the potency of words. Mum, an avid reader ensured our house overflowed with books. Birthdays and Christmas always meant at least one book as a gift. All my life, a daily newspaper had been delivered and subscriptions to various magazines factored into the family budget. I asked Dad for help to choose a market for my story and he suggested The Weekly Times, a popular newspaper in the 80s.
I sent off an unsolicited manuscript –– a photocopy of the painstakingly retyped story(no home computer then), a covering letter and prepaid self-addressed envelope.
My thoughts on an eccentric tram driver who interacted with commuters and the imaginary past I created for him entitled A Ticket To Vaudeville became my ticket to publication and a much-needed boost to confidence and self-esteem. (This short story can be read in an earlier post.)
It is easy to become discouraged with writing and I’ve found ‘Life’ events intervene, but there are a lot of supportive groups and writers around who understand the pitfalls and as a writer, regardless of payment or other people’s judgment, I’ll continue to write!