Have you Always Wanted to Write a Book?
I could never get above a B in Honors English. My family had moved to a ritzy suburb, and I’d transferred from a rougher, less prestigious high school into a swanky one where girls wore matching shoes and purses. I wore army fatigues and boots. The kids weren’t mean, but they weren’t friendly. I was so swept up in having my own bedroom, I could usually forget about not fitting in at school, but nearly every day, I was derailed by the English teacher’s disdain.
That honors English class was comprised of the school’s elite, the ones who knew they’d go on to run companies, dazzle juries, amass fortunes. They came from a rarified world in which I clearly didn’t belong. My one friend would listen to me grumbling on the way to the next class, and scheme to help me write a comment of such depth and perception for the required discussion, that the English teacher would be forced to acknowledge me.
That never happened, but I didn’t write anything for years. After high school, I went to college and grad school, married, had kids, got divorced, met someone wonderful, remarried, and went back to work. When my 9-year-old daughter went off to her first sleepaway camp, I wrote long letters in which she was the heroine in an exciting, ongoing adventure.
In each installment, she was being shuffled around the country by kidnappers who made her perform in their traveling theater company. I’d show up to rescue her by the end of each letter, but just as we were about to escape, the kidnappers would snag her back so they could exploit her huge talent (In the story, she could sing and dance like Shirley Temple, whose movies she adored).
We moved to another state, and while raising kids and working part-time, I continued writing songs and poems, stories, and complaint letters. I was particularly good at those. I also began writing a novel and spent several years creating a nearly incoherent mishmash of unnecessary characters with a plot that resembled overpasses on a congested superhighway. It was a mess because I kept detouring into unimportant side stories that had nothing to do with the story’s arc. Maybe my high school English teacher had been right, and my writing really was just mediocre.
Then, one day in 2016, I read an astounding editorial in the Chicago Tribune by S.L. Wisenberg, author, and teacher. She’d taught writing at several of the city’s most prominent universities, knew how to make sure every word was precise, every chapter pushed the story forward, and every story flowed in a giant arc. With her help and several years of rewriting, my manuscript transformed until it was ready to be submitted, accepted, and published.
I needed less help with my second book, because my editor had already taught me so much, and by the time I began writing my third book, I knew what I was doing. S.L. Wisenberg had given me back the confidence that the high school English teacher had knocked out of me.
When aspiring authors ask me how I managed to write three novels this late in life, I tell them that I try not to let naysayers stop me anymore. I tell them that if they’ve always wanted to be an author, then find a good editor, be prepared to learn something, and keep at it. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t write, or who won’t give you above a B.
G.P. Gottlieb is the author of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery (D.X. Varos Publishing 2023), the third in her culinary mystery series. She is host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, and has interviewed nearly 200 authors. You can read more about her at gpgottlieb.com.