I Never Write Right
When I was fifteen, I announced to my English class that I was going to write and illustrate my own books. Half the students sneered, the rest nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. “Don’t be silly, only geniuses can become writers,” the English teacher said smugly, “And you are getting a D this semester.” I was so humiliated I burst into tears.
That night I wrote a short sad poem about broken dreams and mailed it to the Capri’s Weekly newspaper. To my astonishment, they published it and sent me two dollars. I was a published and paid writer. I showed my teacher and fellow students. They laughed. “Just plain dumb luck,” the teacher said. I tasted success. I’d sold the first thing I’d ever written. That was more than any of them had done and if it was just dumb luck, that was fine with me.
During the next two years I sold dozens of poems, letters, jokes and recipes. By the time I graduated from high school, with a C minus average, I had scrapbooks filled with my published work. I never mentioned my writing to my teachers, friends or my family again. They were dream killers and if people must choose between their friends and their dreams, they must always choose their dreams.
I had four children at the time, and the oldest was only four. While the children napped, I typed on my ancient typewriter. I wrote what I felt. It took nine months, just like a baby. I chose a publisher at random and put the manuscript in an empty Pampers diapers package, the only box I could find. I’d never heard of manuscript boxes. The letter I enclosed read, “I wrote this book myself, I hope you like it. I also do the illustrations. Chapter six and twelve are my favourites. Thank you.” I tied a string around the diaper box and mailed it without a self addressed stamped envelope and without making a copy of the manuscript.
A month later I received a contract, an advance on royalties, and a request to start working on another book. Crying Wind, the title of my book, became a best seller, was translated into fifteen languages and Braille and sold worldwide. I appeared on TV talk shows during the day and changed diapers at night. I traveled from New York to California and Canada on promotional tours. My first book also became required reading in native American schools in Canada.
The worst year I ever had as a writer I earned two dollars. I was fifteen, remember? In my best year I earned 36,000 dollars. Most years I earned between five thousand and ten thousand. No, it isn’t enough to live on, but it’s still more than I’d make working part time and it’s five thousand to ten thousand more than I’d make if I didn’t write at all. People ask what college I attended, what degrees I had and what qualifications I have to be a writer. The answer is: “None.” I just write. I’m not a genius. I’m not gifted and I don’t write right. I’m lazy, undisciplined, and spend more time with my children and friends than I do writing. I didn’t own a thesaurus until four years ago and I use a small Webster’s dictionary that I’d bought at K-Mart for 89 cents. I use an electric typewriter that I paid a hundred and twenty nine dollars for six years ago. I’ve never used a word processor. I do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry for a family of six and fit my writing in a few minutes here and there. I write everything in longhand on yellow tablets while sitting on the sofa with my four kids eating pizza and watching TV. When the book is finished, I type it and mail it to the publisher. I’ve written eight books. Four have been published and three are still out with the publishers. One stinks. To all those who dream of writing, I’m shouting at you: “Yes, you can. Yes, you can. Don’t listen to them.” I don’t write right but I’ve beaten the odds. Writing is easy, it’s fun and anyone can do it. Of course, a little dumb luck doesn’t hurt.