A while ago, one of my readers asked me to write a post about my life as a self-publisher. However, before I became a self-publisher (or “indie” publisher, as we like to call it), I was a writer for a very long time. I think most people who write have been writing for most of their lives. So, I thought I would trace my writing life before my self-publishing experience. You can see whose posts you have been reading all this time! For those of you who would prefer me to stick with grammar (and I know you exist), I will be back to grammar next week. And the second, and final, installment of my writing and self-publishing life will be sometime at the end of February.
The earliest recollection I have of writing goes back to when I was about six or seven. I wrote a holiday musical called Babes in Toyland (original, huh?) for my friends and me to perform for our moms. I remember it ending badly after I had some type of artistic ownership snit.
I then started writing poetry, probably some time during elementary school. I still have a “book” (actually, a notebook) of my poems complete with illustrations I did. I am thinking of publishing the poems I wrote as a young girl and teenager. I will have to give them another look!
Like most preteen girls, I became very interested in pop music. Pop music in the 60s was very different from pop music of today. There were some popular music radio stations that played top 40, there were vinyl 33s and 45s, and that was about it. No Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, no zillions of sub genres of pop music. Everyone listened to pretty much the same radio stations and music. I became a fan of some groups at the time and started writing song lyrics. I am sure by the time I was at the end of high school, I had written well over a hundred songs. I generally had to have a melody in my head when I wrote the lyrics, and I knew enough music from my piano lessons and limited guitar playing to write the music down — as long as it was in an easy key! I wanted to be a famous songwriter like the teams of Leiber and Stoller, or Bacharach and David, or Weil and Mann (you have to be a certain age to remember these people). I became interested enough in the music business to read Billboard Magazine (and Variety, although it had more showbiz and less music) every week. I would walk from my house downtown two or three miles to Cal’s, the only place around that sold Billboard. And I would walk there every day after school until the Billboard for that week came in.
My life’s ambition, as stated in my high school yearbook, was to become a songwriter. However, I was interested in other things as I finished high school. I wanted to be an actress. My parents said No to acting school. I never really pushed the issue since I never even acted in a high school play. I did have the lead in the 4th grade play — only because I was so shy my teacher wanted to prove to me that I could do it. And I did it. And I will never forget that dear woman, Miss Louise.
When it was time to apply to college, I figured it might be too difficult to make it in the world of songwriting, so I set my sights on writing for Billboard Magazine. Thus, I wanted to go to school in New York City. I got in, got a scholarship (to Barnard), and finally decided to decline it and go to school in Boston, closer to home. My parents were not happy about my going to college in New York City (too dangerous); I probably shouldn’t have listened. Even though I like the way my life turned out as far as my children, I wonder what I would have become if I had gone to Barnard and majored in English. Would I have become a novelist?
I went to school in Boston and majored in print media. I graduated and then couldn’t find a relevant job. I was looking for something in corporate marketing writing. I dabbled in clerical jobs for a while and then moved to Florida with my then-boyfriend. I ended up getting a job as a newspaper reporter in a small town. I didn’t really like it. I had to look for things to write about, and the things I was assigned to were boring — town meetings, school committee. Today, I would have run away from that town in a flash because of its politics, but, hey, I was just a kid.
After a few months as a reporter, I found a job at the other newspaper in town as a UPI (United Press International) editor, which meant I assembled the two or three pages of state, national, and international news that came of the “wire.” The rest of the paper was local news. I was completely in charge of those pages and could choose whatever news I wanted the readers to see. I wrote the headlines and supervised the pasteup (yes, pasteup). This is before computers. I loved that job because I felt very powerful and in charge.
However, five months later, I needed to return home to Boston, so I left that job, which was probably my favorite job ever besides raising my kids and writing books.
Again, I dabbled in clerical stuff and resumed the dancing I had started as a child. I took jazz classes three or four days a week and worked early in the morning as a medical transcriber.
Enter the computer age! I knew people who were working at computer companies, and I got a job at one of the big companies. I was basically a secretary, and when they were looking to add an editor to the department, I asked for that job. My boss told me he was looking for “a male nerd who just wanted to sit alone in a room and edit.” After I threatened to sue him, I packed up and took a job at another computer company as a technical writer. Finally, a real job! I was a technical writer for a couple of years. Then I switched to editing because I wasn’t interested in the technical information as much as I was interested in the language. Then, I because the supervisor of the editing group. After about seven years I left to raise a family. I stayed home for ten years, although I did some freelance editing, both at home and onsite at a computer company.
After ten years I took a contract job as an editor in the technical writing department of a local telecommunications company where my husband worked. I worked around my kids’ school schedules. By this time, the family had moved from the East Coast to the West.
The telecom industry that was booming when we moved to the West Coast in 1993 was fading by about 2000. I lasted longer than a lot of the direct employees. I guess, as a contractor, they couldn’t find me. I was finally let go in 2001. Also recently divorced, I needed to find something to do. I thought my technical writing skills were probably too old, and I really didn’t want to do that anyway. A couple of friends suggested I become an English teacher. Kicking and screaming all the way . . .
I received a teaching credential at a ripe old age — in 2003 — and got a job teaching 7th grade English. It really wasn’t for me. The teaching was fine, but I did lack classroom management skills! And it was such hard work!
I began to notice that my students made the same grammar, punctuation, and writing mistakes that the writers made when I was an editor. I had always wanted to write a book and had started one, a diet book! I also always wanted to write a book about only children, which I am and which I never did. Yet.
I remember I was at my gym a few years after I began teaching. I was talking to the woman at the front desk, who was a novelist. I told her I was going to write a book with the most common grammar and punctuation mistakes—a small grammar book. (The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!)
And the rest is herstory. And you will hear about it in Part II —some time in February.