Today’s guest author, Linda Herman, is the author of Parents to the End, a book about what to do as the parent of an adult problem child. Thomas W. Phelan, PhD, says, “The advice here is priceless.” And Linda’s advice for writers is pretty good as well. — Meg
I was never much for bucket lists.
But one item that has nestled in the bottom of my bucket for three plus decades has been to write a book. Other more immediate goals and needs fell on top of my writing, but the idea of authoring a book has held firm in my bucket and in my heart.
Oh, I had forays into it, like someone going to the water’s edge and sticking her toes in, only to retreat. There was the time in the mid 70s, when pre-children, I came out to Seattle from Ohio with my husband. I’d run an ad in the Seattle Weekly seeking young women to interview on the topic of “women in transition.” Another friend on the east coast and I, well aware of the social trends (women’s liberation, Ms Magazine, the “sexual revolution”), wanted to take the pulse in a couple cities and write about what was happening with our generation. Looking back, we may have been ahead of the curve with our topic, but we did not see that project to completion. It was a great beginning and I probably still have the audiotapes tucked away in a long-forgotten drawer. But life dictated that other events would fill my bucket. Some planned and some not.
The big planned event for me was motherhood as well as graduate school and work as a psychotherapist and school psychologist. Writing a book went on the back burner, with the heat just barely on under it. I seized opportunities to write at my jobs: brochures, grants, and contributing to social skills and sex ed curricula for students with disabilities. One of my work supervisors commented that she actually enjoyed reading my psychological assessment reports. Now for that I should have gotten some kind of prize.
But it was unplanned events that shaped what I would ultimately do with my back-burner bucket goal. A year into a job as a school psychologist I was, at age 38, diagnosed with breast cancer. Embracing the ideas of the time, I read Norman Cousins, the Simontons, and Bernie Siegel. I made it through surgeries and treatments, concluding (falsely as I would come to learn) that my positive attitude, exercise and healthy eating habits had rendered me cured.
Seven years later I was itching to go into private practice (another bucket goal) and get back to my writing. “Your Vision is Your Destiny” read the saying I’d taped to my fridge door. Filled with excitement to take the next big step in my life, I resigned from my job of eight years. Alas, once again, fate had other plans for me when, a week after I left my job, I was diagnosed with a recurrence of the cancer and a very aggressive one at that. What was on the front burner leaped to the back. My new goal was just to survive.
To talk about the ensuing months of surgery, chemotherapy, and recovery – while building my practice? is for another day. What is important is my sense that in addition to surviving I had to move forward with my writing goal. In less than two years, I had written a handbook for parents of teens. Accustomed as I was to doing my homework, I researched how to write query letters and book proposals, finding that I could do both quite well. I landed a top notch agent, Kimberley Cameron, but despite our efforts we did not find a publisher willing to take on my work. She suggested I write about another angle on parenting, step-fathering, but the topic was just not right for me. Life moved on, but my interest in writing never diminished.
Periodic essays and articles for my clients eventually gave way to a large project, in which I once again took the pulse of my generation. Childless in the mid seventies, parents of teens in the nineties, and now parents of adult children, these same baby boomers are the subject of my current writing. With both pride and humility I can announce I have a book being published: same agent, great publisher, and topics I love: parenting and the transitions in baby boomers’ lives.
What inspired me to write is not as important as my being able to retain that inspiration to the point of a book’s completion. For what it’s worth, here are a few things I learned along the way:
- Getting rejection letters is quite survivable. It just means being one step closer to getting a letter of acceptance.
- Keep your eye on your goal. You may get sidetracked-for months or even years—but if you really want to write, you will find a way to do so.
- Writing is work and commitment. If you don’t have exhausted moments when you think, “Will anyone really care to read about this topic?”, then you may not be spending enough time at it (or you’re way more together than I am!).
- Do your homework; there are plenty of helps out there. My first manuscript may have never made it to print. But I learned how to write a killer query letter and how to get an agent during that first book attempt.
- Find and join a writing group. At one time I thought writing was a solitary activity. That may be so for some, but the feedback and encouragement from other writers is priceless.
To call me a late blooming writer is apt. After a series of starts, what once was on the back burner is now front and center. I write now more than ever and think about the writing process constantly. It fits well with my schedule as a private practice therapist. A reluctant start at blogging has taken off, I am a tweeter and here I am today writing for Meg’s blog page.
For the record, at age sixty-three I still am not much into bucket lists. But I don’t have to look at mine to know writing remains near the top. – Linda