October 21st, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

Among questions that fill up my inbox, “How did you get started writing?” is second only to “How do you do it?” I originally posted the following questions and answers over a year ago, but it happened to be one of the posts that was lost in the great Blog Blunder of early spring. People keep asking, and so I am re-posting. If you’ve been here and done that, feel free to mosey along.

How did you get started?
I have always been a reader. And published or unpublished, I have always been a writer. As a teenager, I used to keep journals—Emily Dickinson-like—squirreled away in dresser drawers. Years later, as a new mom, I filled notebooks with letters to my babies.

But then I had more babies. And still more. Suddenly, life was too busy for baby books or journals anymore. And that was okay. I was too busy adjusting to motherhood in general and to mother-of-many-hood in particular to even miss such things.

But then came the summer five years ago when I was expecting Stephen, our fifth child. Dan had a part time summer job that kept him working nights. With a gang of children ages 6 and under, I found myself with time alone night after night, beginning with the kids’ bedtime at 7:30 and lasting until Dan came home around midnight.

I saw an opportunity and I seized it. We had no internet connection at that time, but we did have a computer… packed away in boxes in our bedroom closet. That year I told Dan that the only thing I wanted for my birthday was the computer—unpacked, plugged in, and connected to its printer at the small desk I kept in the tiny hallway upstairs. What man could pass up such a money-saving, wife-pleasing opportunity? He obliged.

Then what?
My next step was getting a book. I looked through a few freelance writers’ how-to books at the library but was not satisfied with the outdated information I found in them. One thing is for sure: Wannabe freelance writers need up-to-date information on the magazines and newspapers that might use their work. At the bookstore, I picked up a current copy of Writer’s Market. If you are getting started as a freelance writer, this book is a great place to begin. A new version is published every year and it contains information about every single magazine on the market—its needs, its features, its style, whom to contact and how, and its rates.

During the days, I spent many hours beside the kids’ wading pool, studying that book and making notes about various publications that might be interested in my work. During the nights, I worked at my writing. I sat sweating at the computer and wrote and wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote several different personal essays.

Then I took a deep breath and started sending stuff out. By mail. Yes, some people still do that kind of thing, or at least they did five years ago. I was so shy and insecure about my writing in those early days that I didn’t even have anyone read it for me before I sent it out. No one. In fact, when I got my first acceptance letter (And a paycheck! However small, it was a paycheck!) from Our Sunday Visitor I showed it to Dan and he said, “Okay, now will you let me read what you wrote?” Silly, I know.

As sensitive as we sometimes feel, any beginning writer needs to be prepared for rejection. In the beginning, I found it helpful to keep a number of submissions “out there” at a time so that if something got rejected, I could shift my focus (and my hopes) to the next something.

After getting a few more things published in a few more places, I grew more confident and began to cultivate a relationship with editors at different magazines and newspapers. This, I found, was invaluable. Sometimes an editor would reject one of my submissions but would be very nice about explaining why he/she couldn’t use it. The next time I submitted something, my previous rejection only worked in my favor as the editor was likely to recognize my name and give my work more serious consideration.

Though I did a little bit for magazines like Envoy, Pregnancy, FamilyFun, eventually, my writing found a happy home in a few of my “favorite” places, like the National Catholic Register, Faith & Family, and Our Sunday Visitor. Before I knew it, I was being offered enough work to occupy all the time I had for writing.

What time? How do you do it, anyway?
Writing is a lovely form of part time work in that it is so mother-friendly. But if you are going to try it, you do need to stop waiting around for enormous chunks of free time to just fall into your lap before you get started. You need to be flexible. You need to able to hold a whiny baby, wipe a kid on the potty, and try to think of a perfect synonym for “wiggle” at the same time. You need to be willing to jot notes in a messy notebook or scribble phrases onto paper napkins in order to “save” them until you can clean them up and polish them later on.

And you need evening time. I happen to be blessed in that my husband is able to be home for long periods of time in the day. He helps with the homeschooling. I mean that. He really helps. So that frees up some of my daytime hours, but still I would be lost without free time in the evenings. If you are a mom who feels you have no time to do anything on your own, try turning off your television for a week. You’ll be amazed at the pockets of time that open up for you.

What about your website?
My brothers are wonderfully generous and supportive people. A couple of years ago, they collectively decided that they were embarrassed by the Dinosaur of a computer I was using for my writing (We had managed to get an internet connection by then, but I was still working with a computer we had bought back in 1996). So they bought me a new computer. Isn’t that just so wonderfully kind and sweet? A huge box from Dell arrived on my doorstep and that was that. I have been well-equipped, highly connected, and oh-so-up-to-date ever since.

When my first book was about to be published, I thought that having a website would be a good way to promote it as well as a convenient place to have writing samples and other information available all in one spot. Once again, I turned to my computer-savvy brothers. My brother Paul volunteered to design and maintain the site and we were in business.

While we were planning the site, I asked him if it would be possible for him to include a spot where I could post a little piece of writing every day. He said, “Sure, I’ll set it up” and Danielle Daily was born.

After a little while of posting on the site and connecting to other people through it, I started getting emails from people saying things like, “I really like your blog.” My first thought was, “You really like my what?”

I was only vaguely familiar with the concept of blogs and the few of them that I had read were really narcissistic and strange. For this reason, I fought the blogger label for a long time. But as I became more familiar with the world of blogs and the many good and talented people out there who do blog, I eventually came to accept the inevitable. As my oldest brother put it to me from the start: “You are too so a blogger!” I suppose I was. And I suppose I am.

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