The Writer’s Life, getting published and the secret to achieving it

Hi all, Maureen Milliken here, comtemplating The Writer’s Life.

Yes, I know I put that in caps. That’s because it’s the name of a Thomas College class I’ve been asked to be a guest speaker at in a couple weeks. As always, I look forward to any opportunity where I’m actually being asked to speak. Usually I’m being asked to stop.

But what to say about The Writer’s Life? Or even the writer’s life? No writer’s life is the same, and I always feel when people want to hear about it — and maybe I was like this too before I was published — they want to come away with a tip sheet, or even just one magic tip, that will lead directly to publishing success. Ugh.

I’m not sure what my fantasy of the writer’s life was. I’ve wanted to write mystery novels almost since I was able to read. I think my fantasy involved the actual writing more than “being a writer.” But I know there WAS a period of time I also fantasized about being on the Dick Cavett Show. I was probably 12 or 13 or so and had a mini-crush on Dick. He

Dick Cavett. I think we all can agree that Dick looks like he's saying, "You know, Maureen, I found your book fascinating."

Dick Cavett. I think we all can agree that Dick looks like he’s saying, “You know, Maureen, I found your book fascinating.”

just always seemed so interested in what his guests had to say — a novelty for me (again, used to being asked to stop speaking). And he was so smart, but he acted like his guests were smart, too. And something about his voice. Instantly recognizable and so, so…something. Every once in a while I’ll hear Dick Cavett’s voice on TV or somewhere and it gives me a pleasant shiver.

I haven’t fantasized about being on Dick Cavett in a good 40 years or so. I’m going to try now. Dick: So Maureen (he knows my name!), I don’t understand this plot point having to do with the bridge and the…

Oh, nuts. Dick has turned into the guy who accosted me in the community center parking lot after the recent town meeting (voted to build a new town office!) and wanted to wrangle over my major plot twist as his wife nervously kept saying, “Don’t bother her.”

Ah yes. The writer’s life.

Here’s what this writer’s life is like Aside from having more conversations than I ever could have imagined with people (who are not Dick Cavett) about my book and the finer points: I work long, long hours (gosh should actually be getting ready to go to work about

Everybody writes! As a judge in the Writers Digest self-published book contest, I 've read and critiqued hundreds of self-pubs over the last few years.

Everybody writes! As a judge in the Writers Digest self-published book contest, I ‘ve read and critiqued hundreds of self-pubs over the last few years.

half an hour ago) at a job I love but takes every ounce of my physical and mental strength to do. I do freelance editing and judge in the Writer’s Digest self-published book contest to help pay the bills, which means reading as many as a couple hundred self-published books a year and then critiquing them. Sometimes I try to do things like clean my house, read a book for pleasure, keep up on the news, do things with family and friends and tend to my dog and cat. When I can fit it in.

So when do I find the time to write the next book, which is due with the publisher,  um, sometime soon? Good question.

I’m not complaining, just explaining. As an only recently published writer, I can say forcefully that no one wants to hear someone whose book has been published complain about what a burden it is.

Anyway, everyone’s got it tough in one way or another. The writer’s life is as diverse as the writers themselves. I was fortunate to hang out with a bunch of mystery writers in Bar

Can I talk? You betcha. I won't give up the mike at the Jesup Library's Murder by the Book, The Real World vs. The Page panel: Maine Superior Court Justice William Stokes, journalists Maureen Milliken and Earl Brechlin, Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster and retired Portland Det. Sgt. Bruce Coffin

Can I talk? You betcha. I won’t give up the mike at the Jesup Library’s Murder by the Book, The Real World vs. The Page panel: Maine Superior Court Justice William Stokes, journalists Maureen Milliken and Earl Brechlin, Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster and retired Portland Det. Sgt. Bruce Coffin

Harbor at the Jesup Library’s Murder by the Book event earlier this month, and was struck by the different lives each of the dozen authors at the event leads. Lots and lots of lawyers and former lawyers. But still, wildly different lives. Lives as different as the books we write.

But I bet every single person who writes has his or her challenges when it comes time to do it. I’m happily single, but there are times I wish there was someone around to clean the house — those week-old dishes aren’t going to wash themselves! — or go to the store or walk the dog. Or even bankroll my career.

Then I laugh. The last thing I need is someone lounging on the couch clicking through 570 TV channels and leaving his socks on the floor while I’m trying to write. But I digress.

So far, I’ve thought of two BIG THINGS to tell the eager students at Thomas College. Two nuggets of wisdom that apply to every aspiring writer, no matter what his or her life is or may become.

First thing is, write. Write write write write write. Don’t let the excuses, the challenges, the dishes in the sink or the need to make a buck deter you. Buck up, knuckle down, shut your pie hole and write.

Second: Don’t give up. Make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be and then plug away, graciously but persistently, with conferences, agents, publishers big and small, learning the craft and how things work, until someone who’s willing to pay for  it likes your book as much as you do. If your book is worthy and  you behave professionally, there is no other secret to getting published.

Oh yeah, I guess there’s a third. Never ever ever, no matter how hard it is, forget what a

This never stops being cool: Cold Hard News on display at The Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine.

This never stops being cool: Cold Hard News on display at The Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine.

huge privilege it is to see your book in print. Be thankful and gracious to every single person who buys it, asks you to sign it, or even wants to argue plot points with you in the community center parking lot. Remember, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who wish they were you but haven’t done what you did — written a book good enough to get published.

And that’s the best damn thing about a writer’s life.

Maureen Milliken is a newspaper editor in central Maine and the author of Cold Hard News, which was released by S&H Publishing in June. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 or check out her Facebook page, Maureen Milliken mysteries.

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6 Responses to The Writer’s Life, getting published and the secret to achieving it

  1. Great post! Made me smile!

    Like

  2. Amy M. Reade says:

    I loved this post! Recognized a lot of myself in it. You have a way of explaining The Writer’s Life with humor and humility and candor. Thank you!

    Like

  3. What else could possibly be said?? You nailed it. Great post, Maureen!

    Like

  4. Kate Cone says:

    Cue the applause, Maureen! I loved this piece! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on what it takes.

    When I was the age you fantasized getting on Dick Cavett’s show, I watched the Merv Griffin show ever afternoon. Until the day he died, I think in 1982, my goal in life was to be on with Merv and his kooky regulars: Hermione Gingold, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Monty Rock III….and of course I’d talk about my mystery novel. ER, the one I’m still working on 30 years later. Well, that one is in a box, in the closet, ready to publish, if I dared do it myself.

    Break a leg at Thomas. I might show up ….it’s a half-mile away from my house.

    Kate

    Like

  5. Dick Cavett? Really? That is hilarious!

    Like

  6. Being published is a real thrill, but it passes quickly, like most highs in life. What next?

    Like

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