Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Old Beginnings by Grace Burrowes

I started writing romance in my late forties, saw my first contract around age 51, and at age 52 have four books on the shelves—for which I’m very grateful. To appearances, I got a late start, but a good one, in the published author biz.

And I was lucky—I didn’t have to do much pitching, didn’t have to query a zillion agents, didn’t have to revise and resubmit a dozen books. I wrote a few manuscripts, sent them around to some contests, pitched an editor, and here we are, several Regency romances later, loving life.

Except that characterization, while not deceptive, is not accurate either. Trace the threads of my writing story back to their origins, and you’ll see me forty years ago, being lent a copy of “The Wolf and the Dove” by a junior high acquaintance. Trace them back further, and you’ll find me reading my eyes bloodshot at the age of eight, when I got hold of my first Hardy Boys adventure (never did find much of interest about Nancy Drew). When I was seven, I started keeping my first journal—large print before it was popular.

Roll forward, and I’m in college pursuing political science and music history degrees, while I work on the campus newspaper as an arts reporter, copy editor, and arts editor. I learned AP style, got some writing basics down, and laid the groundwork to do some concert reviews for The Washington Post. I also landed a couple jobs after college as a technical writer and editor, (and learned that proofreading is not my thang).

It never once occurred to me to pursue writing fiction professionally. I was a musician, a document production coordinator, technical editor, a lawyer, a mediator… “Commercial fiction,” I said as I bought every Mary Balogh, Loretta Chase and Judith Ivory I could find, “is for people with writing talent, tenacity and imagination.”

I did not consider myself a writer, even though in law school I had to write one term paper after another. I endured this (while working full time and taking on single parenting) solely by reading a half dozen romances every week. For my master’s degree, my advisor let me write a romance novel that evaluated the American legal system from a conflict management viewpoint (which I also endured by consuming romance novels voraciously).

By the time I “started” writing romance novels for fun, I had read at least 12,000 romances, I had filled at least 100 handwritten journals, I had memorized two style manuals (though I’ve forgotten GPO style number rules, thank God), and published at least 200 byline articles. The only person in my family who was surprised when I was offered a contract so soon after I “started” to write was me.

The point of this diatribe is to note that I had no idea what I was beginning when I read “The Wolf and the Dove” all those decades ago.

Beginnings are usually invisible, and this is a wonderful thing. Every day, going about your usual routine, you are very likely sowing the seeds for entire new careers, whether you know it or not. You are nurturing dreams, fertilizing hopes, and finding the keys to doors you can’t even see yet. See your day as an accumulation of clues to the treasure map of your future, and everything takes on the aspect of a wonderful new beginning.

What about you? How far back did your current dream start and at the time, could you see where those threads were leading?

17 comments:

  1. Good morning, Miz Grace. Amazing what one good book can create, isn't it? My thread started long before I was published just before my 50th birthday. It was a bit more frayed than yours because I have enough rejection letters to fill up a dumpster...or two.
    Actually I think the thread all started when I was four years old and discovered that those were words on those papers I was given to play with.

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  2. Grace, you are MY Heroine! I'm sooo proud of you! And you too, Carolyn! Wow, you ladies are just remarkable! Keep up the great writing!!!! So we can keep getting great stories! It goes to show that there is no time limit on greatness!

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  3. Carolyn, I recall sitting in first grade, sounding out the word "match," and knowing Sister was pleased with me. I was pleased with me too!

    Terry, I feel the same way about PD James. She's in her nineties, and writing stronger than ever. http://amzn.to/wjgH2s

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  4. Hi Grace-My thread goes back to reading my childhood and is rooted in my imagination. I created characters and worlds in my mind, long before I had the nerve to put them on paper. I began writing in my late thrities and found myself published at forty-one. It's never too late to follow a dream and see it realized.

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  5. Hi Grace-My thread goes back to reading my childhood and is rooted in my imagination. I created characters and worlds in my mind, long before I had the nerve to put them on paper. I began writing in my late thrities and found myself published at forty-one. It's never too late to follow a dream and see it realized.

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  6. Sara, you caught on to the writing thread much sooner than I did. Good on you, and lucky for your readers. If there's an advantage to blooming late for me, it might be that publishers are much more willing now to put more than a book a year on the shelf for any one author. A backlist and readership can build more quickly in this climate than the previous decades. Silver lining, or an example of the entire universe lining up for my convenience...?

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  7. Great post Grace! During a recent bout of frustration and doubt about my writing career, my mom sliced through it (as all good moms are able to do) with the reminder that I veer--and have always done so--towards books more so than any other thing I've been interested in. I attended fashion college for a bit, but I don't obsess over clothes, I dabbled in singing and songwriting, but I don't keep up with that industry, and so on and so forth...everything I do always returns to a good book.

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  8. Evangeline, where would be we without our moms? They've known us since literally before we can remember. Best of luck with the writing. To me, it takes equal parts compassion for yourself (writing can take a lot out of you) and unrelenting determination. Fortunately, the probability of being published has never been higher, so don't give up.

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  9. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Thought I started reading romance when I was 10, my writing outlet was poetry - up until I graduated from college and...choked. I felt overwhelmed by expectations, and didn't write for over 20 years. But I still read romance - voraciously - and, perhaps prophetically, I happened one day upon one of those books that make you think, "I could do better." So I...tried.

    To make a long story short, Deb bought it. ;-)

    And I feel I have so much more life experience to bring to my writing now than I could have then. Less fear, too.

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  10. Ok...first...definitely not an OLD beginning, lol. I figure I am just a baby at 50! I had a somewhat restricted childhood but I was content as long as I had something to read. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the library as often as I would have liked but they eventually increased the number of books that I could check out at any one time. I memorized the few books that I actually did own and my mom finally had to give up at the breakfast table since I persisted in reading everything from the cereal box to the telephone book! (she was afraid that I would ruin my eyes by reading when I first awoke) I'm glad there are far more interesting things I can read over breakfast now. You are all an inspiration, thanks for sharing ladies!

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  11. Hi Grace! Thanks for sharing your story. I also didn't get started writing novels until my 40's, although in grad school I did have a lot of writing experience. Then I chose a career in academics and wrote grants and journal articles. Although I always had story ideas in my head I never thought about writing them down (I can be slow at times). Unlike many people who read romance novels all their lives I didn't start until my husband was deployed. I started reading great stories of love and happily ever after, and was completely hooked!

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  12. Tamara, the same, subversive, "I could better than this," thought is what prompted me to attempt my first romance--and am I ever glad it did. I do wonder, though, what would happen if you wrote a romance about a woman who was forbidden to write poetry for twenty years.... I'd read it.

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  13. Elf, I recall reading the Cocoa Puffs box, too! And yes, fifty is in your prime. Thanks for stopping by.

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  14. Those grant proposals! I was a proposal coordinator right out of college, and this eventually led to me bidding on a contact to represent foster children. Amazing how way leads on to way. I found the proposal writing useful from one perspective. You learn to focus your writing from two directions: Who's your target audience? What's your residual message? Good questions to keep in mind.

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  15. Grace, your start sounds so much like mine. I never thought of writing as a profession either. And then when I did think start thinking of it that way, it seems like everyone tried to discourage me from writing romance. Finally, I came across a book I'd had as a kid, and in the back was a love scene between Han Solo and princess Leia, where they kissed and kissed and kissed. That's when I knew writing romance was what i was meant to do.

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  16. Your reference to The Wolf and the Dove brought back many wonderful memories of a time when I was only a reader of romance and not a writer. I've been a scribbler for as long as I can remember and i hope that never changes.
    Amelia

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  17. I don't think we see where the threads are leading. My life has often taken drastic turns because I was presented with an opportunity I could not pass up. I think we have to follow our dreams but keep our eyes open along the way!

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