Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

October 6, 2014

A Real Writer

The key to being a Real Writer is to bull right through stuff like this.

Two years ago, I decided I was going to be a real writer.

This was the third or fourth time I had made the same decision. When I was 8, I wrote my first “book”, a complete retelling of the Princess Bride, starring me as the Man in Black, minus any princesses. In high school, I decided I was serious enough to fill a proper portfolio, attending several “Young Author’s Workshops” whose mandate and sponsorship still remains a bit vague to me – though I did meet Michael Ondaatje. After running away from home, I came back to graduate high school and wrote on a slip of paper that I intended to “write the Great Canadian Novel” after graduation. They didn’t read that part out.

I did NaNoWriMo a few times between 2004 and 2007. I entered the Three Day Novel Writing Contest. I started writing mildly-successful erotica. I never finished anything. I was flailing, dabbling. I picked up and dropped writing projects at the same speed that I cycled through jobs, boyfriends, apartment. I was not a real writer – I was a dilettante.

When I got pregnant in 2007, I decided it was time to get serious. There was every chance I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work when my maternity leave was up and I needed something to fall back on. I pulled up my NaNoWriMo novel from 2004 and vowed to finish it. It was boring, but I had to do it to prove that I could. It sucked, but I did it. I finished the novel and put it straight into a trunk. I didn’t write another thing for five years.

Two years ago, something changed. I was 32, had two kids, a steady partner and job. I was “happy”, if bored. All of the flashes of glory and glamour I had enjoyed over the past 15 years had amounted to nothing. I had always been able to shine at whatever I did, but had never had the gumption to stick with anything. It was easy to be good enough at something to get your foot in the door, but getting great at something was harder to figure out. I was too flighty, too anxious, too easily distracted, and too easily bored. Of course I could write. I was even good at it. But being a real writer was something else entirely.

Two years ago I decided I would stick with it. No matter how bad I thought I was. No matter how many rejections I got. No matter how often my beta readers told me they “didn’t get it”. No matter how many long, dead hours I spent on words that would never see the light of day, that had none of the instant gratification I was used to. No matter how many other opportunities came my way which seemed shiny and new and exciting. I was going to learn focus and tenacity.

I had always thought of “hard work” as “work on the difficult setting,” which I could conveniently circumvent by being talented enough that it wasn’t very hard at all. But it isn’t. “Hard work” is doing something you don’t want to do. It means forcing yourself through whatever makes you sweat. For me, that was staying put. It was getting up again and again and doing the same thing I had done the day before, without succumbing to the need for change, the thrill of novelty. It meant trying again and again. Writing more and more. Every day. Forever, if that’s how long it took.

It took two years. I am pleased to be able to say that my short story, “La Héron”, has been accepted for publication by C.C. Finlay for his guest-edited issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My first sale at pro rates, and the first goal post I had set for myself.

Now it’s head back down to the grind. It took me a stubborn 34 years, but I think I’ve learned my first lesson. The only real trick is to keep at it. One day after another, one word after another.

I’m a real writer now.

11 thoughts on “A Real Writer”

  1. Yes. The real writer is the one who feels the struggle and does it anyway. Congratulations, Charlotte! I’m happy to see your work getting recognition! And your tenacity paying off. 🙂

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thank you, Steph. 😀 And, for heaven sake, congrats on your upcoming publication too! I’m looking forward to reading it!

  2. Merc Rustad says:

    I’m so happy for you! 😀 Congrats again! May this be the first of many, many more acceptance letters.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thank you! It’s weird, actually selling a story. My long list of submittable things is shrinking. I have to… write more…

  3. Amira says:

    So proud of you 🙂 and happy for you, and for us, your readers!
    I’m going to forward this to my middle son, the genius who finds things too easy …
    Thank you very much for sharing this. I love the heart in your voice!

    1. Charlotte says:

      I’m going to save it for my own kids, I think! It’s easy for smart people to get caught in this trap – that if something isn’t easy and doesn’t automatically heap you with rewards, that it must be “not your thing”. It takes a while for kids to come around to the notion that to be really accomplished at something, you have to be talented AND work your butt off…

  4. Bernie Mojzes says:

    Having read some of your earlier work, I’d say that you’ve been a real writer for some time now.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thanks, Bernie. 🙂 It’s true, though – I meant “Real Writer” in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek way, knowing how fraught the subject is. Anyone who writes at all is a real writer. But I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t style myself as a “writer” until I had reached certain goalposts – which now, I have. I need a scorecard to help with the impostor’s syndrome, frankly.

  5. Many congratulations, Charlotte. I’ve only known you since you decided to stick with it, but I don’t think there’s been any doubt in the minds of the SFFWorld crowd that we’d see something like this happen sooner, rather than later. It’s great encouragement to us, but most of all it’s highly deserved for you.

    Well done!

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thanks, Andrew! I know you’re busy being a published novelist and all, but you should really join us in the short story grind! It’s good fun, and your work should be out there too!

  6. So proud of you Charlotte. Hope this is the first of many, many more.

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