Please welcome guest blogger and writer Julie McDowall. This is her story of how she became a published writer. As you know, we love to hear from you, so do please leave a comment and/or ask Julie a question.
When Is A Writer A Writer?
I always wanted to be a writer. Aside from being a nurse or a suffragette or to be off building schools in Tanzania could there be anything more worthy and fine? I longed to be a writer: sitting at my desk all day, serene, shielded from the world, inking delicious words onto pristine paper.
But what business did I have with serenity? There was a rat race to be run. Every day I’d get on the 8.14 train to Glasgow Central to work in an air-conditioned office where the air conditioner never worked. Breathing in stale air, and getting stressed, irritable, sapped of all inclination to write. Back home in the evening, I’d sit at my desk and try to conjure up that wonderful image of the writer, the one I wanted to be: a proud and lofty lover of literature who effortlessly etched words, sentences, chapters, whole novels onto the page. But I couldn’t do it. I was too grimy with the working day. Weighed down by stats and sodden with spreadsheets and weary with monthly targets and office politics and who’s getting promoted and did you see she was late again?
I was a million miles away from being a writer. I didn’t have a room of my own, I had a desk shoved under the window. I didn’t have a proper writing desk, I had a wobbly IKEA table. I didn’t have clarity and metaphor, I had a loyalty card for my staff canteen.
How can I ever become a writer, when the writer’s life is so far removed from mine?
Growing up, there were no books of note in our household. There were a few by Danielle Steele or Catherine Cookson, and I remember one on how to lose weight with self-hypnosis, but nothing substantial. Nothing for me to cut my teeth on. I was always aware of gaping holes in my literary education and so clung to the classics in my teenage years. If it was heavy and Victorian them it must be good. I had no self-confidence in my reading, and so none at all in my writing. I needed the branding of Victoriana. Little wonder, then, that I grew up with a skewed and romantic image of what a writer is. How can you be a writer without moors to wander on? How can you create a character who doesn’t wear a crinoline? Are you allowed to put swear words in a novel? Can books be funny?
So I curdled in my ignorance. I made silly attempts at flowery writing, aping the classics. I told myself I couldn’t write until I was alone and unfettered (and no doubt with wild pre-Raphaelite hair), until I was occupying some overblown Victorian fantasy of what a writer should be.
I wrote little and published nothing.
Then, on a whim, I began a blog on WordPress where I’d write about my experiences in online dating. This wasn’t writing, of course, it was just a chance to jot down my crazy tales and make people laugh.
Readers began sharing it on Facebook and Twitter and commenting on how they loved reading it and what a ‘good writer’ I was. I was baffled. This isn’t me as a ‘writer’. This is just a silly way to entertain people. To make them feel the hope and horror that I felt, and to get them wondering what will happen next. To make them forget the dull world for ten minutes and escape with me into my adventures.
Then it struck me, isn’t that exactly what a ‘writer’ is supposed to do?
Without knowing it, I had accidentally become a writer. I had exploded into prose which was funny and scathing and sordid and blunt. I had been shorn of my Victoriana.
Light as a balloon and full of confidence, I e-mailed my blog to HeraldScotland.com to ask if they’d consider publishing it. I smiled as I sent the e-mail, marvelling at how brazen I was. No more flowery idealism. I’ve written a powerful, punchy blog about men and dating and sex and I have the temerity to badger The Herald newspaper with it. Hear me blog!
The digital editor replied and asked to meet me. A few weeks later, my blog was smack-bang on the front page of HeraldScotland.com and where it now appears each week.
During a catch-up meeting with the editor a few months later he suggested I contact a Scottish publisher called Blasted Heath. They mainly publish crime, but it may be worth a try…
A few weeks later, I had signed a contract with them. My blog is now appearing as an e-book and paperback in two volumes, called Casting The Net. Uncut, uncensored, witty, cruel and brazen as hell. The opposite of the lofty Victorian writer I thought I had to be.
So when is a writer a writer? When you are writing from the heart, from the nerves, from the very bones. When you shudder and pause and think ‘oh dear, should I write that?’ and you then plunge on regardless, saying ‘Yes! Because that is how it was.’ When you are able to clamber across the barricades of what is expected, and of what is nice, and spill onto the paper your true self.
That’s when you’re a writer.
You can buy Casting the Netfrom Amazon from today!
Julie is also the editor of The Puffin Review