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“I never write right”

Posted on: October 31, 2007

By Linda Stafford

When I was 15, 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 Capper’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’d 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.

But sometimes you do find a friend who supports your dreams.

“It’s easy to write a book,” that new friend told me. “You can do it.”

“I don’t know if I’m smart enough,” I said, suddenly feeling 15 again and hearing echoes of laughter.

“Nonsense!” she said. “Anyone can write a book if they want to.”

I had four children at the time, and the oldest was only four. We lived on a goat farm in Oklahoma, miles from anyone. All I had to do each day was take care of four kids, milk goats, and do the cooking, laundry and gardening. No problem.

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 drew the illustrations. Chapters 6 and 12 are my favorites. 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 became a bestseller, was translated into 15 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.

It took six months to write my next book. I mailed it in an empty Uncle Wiggley game box (I still hadn’t heard of manuscript boxes). My Searching Heart also became a bestseller. I wrote my next novel, When I Give My Heart, in only three weeks.

The worst year I ever had as a writer, I earned two dollars (I was 15, remember?). In my best year, I earned $36,000. Most years I earn between $5,000 and $10,000. No, it isn’t enough to live on, but it’s still more than I’d make working part-time, and it’s $5,000 to $10,000 more than I’d make if I didn’t write at all.

People ask what college I attended, what degrees I have, 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 bought at Kmart for 89 cents. I use an electric typewriter that I paid $129 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.

Reprinted by permission of Linda Stafford (c) 1996 from Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Maida Rogerson, Martin Rutte and Tim Clauss. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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