Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

The Rocky Road to Becoming a Writer

By Vicki McElfresh

©2002, Vicki McElfresh

Once, not so long ago, the thought of letting a friend read my work absolutely terrified me.  I didn't want to be thought of as the "girl who wrote those weird stories."  So I wrote in secret.  I stuffed my stories in folders in my drawers, until one day, I discovered that there were other things to do with those stories, like send them to contests.  So I stuffed them into envelopes and shipped them to faceless editors.   I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to be a writer, and in my mind that meant having my name in print somewhere. 

Even though I could submit my stories to faceless editors, I still couldn't let anyone actually read and critique them.   I dreaded turning short stories into my teachers, simply because I knew I'd be chided for the subject matter.  I might have continued just to stuff my work in envelopes if not for one of those faceless editors.    He returned my manuscript to me full of red marks.   He commented not on my story, but rather on my excessive use of the word 'that' and my poor sentence structure.  Something in that rejection convinced me that I needed another person to peruse my stories before I put them in envelopes.   The thought still frightened me, so I stopped submitting, though I kept writing.

It wasn't until I got to college that I finally started letting other people read what I wrote, and then only because it was a part of the course.   Some part of me hoped that my professors would think my stories were wonderful.  They didn't.  In fact, they said things like, "This is nice, but I'm anxious to see what you can do with other things."  That comment hurt, especially since I respected the professor who had made it.

In four years, I only had one professor who encouraged me to write what I wanted.  He read my work and said, "you'll be published with books one day."  At the time, I was so ashamed of writing fantasy that I ignored his comment.  I was afraid to believe he could be right. 

I graduated from college.  I stopped writing, mostly because my experiences in college had given me some wonderful techniques, but they had stolen all the heart out of my words.  I just didn't want to write anymore.  I'm not sure why I started again, but four years after college I finally began writing seriously.  This time, I was determined to be a writer.

I pulled out a novella I had started writing in college called Embrace of Memory, and I began revising it.  In three weeks’ time, it had grown to full novel length.  I felt like a real writer for the first time in years.  I looked at my completed novel and wondered what to do next.  It was nowhere near good enough to submit yet.  I needed a reader, and I refused to let my family see the book.  So I went hunting on the Internet and found Del Rey's online workshop.  For the first time, I actually looked forward to someone else reading my work.  For the first time, I actually had someone read one of my stories and encourage me to improve it.  It was a wonderful feeling, at least until Del Rey's workshop closed.  With its closure, I was left with a half-finished novel, and no real ideas what do with it.  I went hunting for another online writer's group.  I found Forward Motion.

I learned more about writing in a few short months as a member of Forward Motion, than I'd learned in four years of intensive writing courses.  I finally figured out what was working and what wasn't working in my stories.  For the first time, I didn't dread letting someone else read my stories.  For the first time, I felt like a writer.  And for the first time, I didn't think being a writer meant having my name in print.