We all know that saying, right? Well, once we get to a certain age anyhow, we do 🙂 Those in the bloom of youth might still think they’re the sole directors of their lives.
To be true, to some extent, we are.
We dream, we set goals, we plan, we take action. But as we go through this journey and begin looking back, it’s often quite amazing the paths our lives veered down—ones we would never have imagined.
As most of y’all know, I’m an author. Primarily of Literary Fiction (2 novels published, as well as a litany of short stories), but I’ve also had 4 co-authored works of nonfiction published as well.
Blessed I am, indeed, especially in today’s book climate!
An author is all I’ve ever aspired to be. Since I was little, and on through all the stages to adulthood and beyond, I’ve written and written and written.
It’s my life.
But funny enough, it isn’t my whole professional life. Or even the majority of it. My world these days is pretty evenly split, and the “other” part isn’t something I ever imagined myself to be.
I am, however, now that.
Nearly 30 years ago, I joined the DFW Writers’ Workshop. Mainly for the networking opportunities, because of course, I was already the next McMurtry!
Yes, go on and laugh here. All writers, especially newbies, must have a large dose of arrogance or they’ll never get through even the initial process, much less all the rejection to follow.
But anyhow, join I did. Every Wednesday night we would read from our own works and critique others’.
That was a great experience on so many levels.
Another thing we started doing was passing between us our entire manuscripts, to those we respected and trusted, for feedback.
Writers always need outside eyes.
And a funny thing happened: We found I had a knack for delving into the muscle, diving down to the bone, cutting into the very viscera of what was going on, the good, the bad, and the ugly of a manuscript. And more importantly, showing how to fix it regarding the how, when, why, and where. Not to mention, the who.
Because, who knew? Certainly I didn’t before that.
So of course, members started piling their manuscripts atop my head.
And since I was a literal starving artist, I went, wait a minute. If I’m gonna be spending all this time doing this, I might as well be paid!
Even if the pay was nominal. I started out charging $1 a page for a full edit and critique.
Which didn’t stem the tide.
And, equally as remarkable, the writers for whom I edited found a lot of success—they became published authors.
How cool was that! Not only was I being paid, but oh, how gratifying to help others reach their dreams! And thank me profusely for it.
The tide grew stronger. So, slowly but surely, my fees rose with it, so that after dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, I found myself with a thriving business.
And not one I would have even considered starting.
Now, I’ve edited for NY Times bestselling authors, authors who’ve won major awards (Lords of an Empty Land just won a 2016 Spur Award), and those whose books have been made into films (Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party for one, which is still one of my favorite books!).
Fifty + books I’ve edited have been sold to Traditional publishers. Which again, just amazes me. And most of those are fiction, in an era where people reading novels is kinda going the way of the T-Rex.
Writing well is a difficult endeavor, and actually does require all that blood, sweat, and tears you hear about. In essence, it’s an absolute labor of love. I’ve always been quite fond of the advice Rilke gave in Letters to a Young Poet:
“This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? . . . And if this should be affirmative . . . then build your life according to this necessity. . .”
To persevere with writing and publishing, with the odds steep indeed, the hours long and arduous and solitary, well, that deep-seated dream must drive you.
How blessed I am to work with such wonderful writers. What a fun life it is. I get to live in a world of words—both my own and others’. And get paid to do so.
All of which came about while I was making other plans.
To this day my mind is boggled by all the events that conspired to cause this to happen, and none by my own design. I just followed the open doors.
Funny how that old saying actually holds true: When you want to give the gods a laugh, tell them your plans.
How has your life veered off onto successful paths that you never would have imagined?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.