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Dear Indie Annie: Clueless in Calgary

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Dear Indie Annie, 

I am desperate to fulfill my dream of being a published writer. It’s all I’ve ever wanted since I was a child, which I am embarrassed to say was over five decades ago. Is it too late? Have I missed the boat? I don’t even know where to start!

Clueless in Calgary

Dear Clueless,

Oh boy, doesn’t it suck getting old? Seeing all your youthful dreams slip through your gnarly fingers? Watching your peers climb up the ladders of their chosen careers whilst you make do with whatever it is you are making do with? 

You don’t say if you are working in a writing-adjacent role. You know, the occupations that use your mastery of words and imaginative ideas in some other guise. Perhaps you are a teacher or a journalist, a lawyer or a marketing executive. Or maybe you have been happy working in the cheese section at your local supermarket. 

To be honest, my dear Clueless, it matters not a jot. Your past does not dictate your future. For example, it would amaze you how many successful authors have been in the military or were stay-at-home moms. 

If the past five decades have helped you to refine your prose, that’s wonderful. Perhaps you haven’t written a word since high school and, my dear, that is also wonderful. Whatever has happened, it has brought you to this moment. Right here. Right now. 

I once attended a writing conference—a small, local affair, where a literary agent was holding court from the stage to a room full of wannabe authors. Beside her sat a mature lady, I would hazard somewhere in her early sixties, talking about securing her first six-figure publishing deal. 

The audience wanted to know how many rejection letters she had received. How many unpublished manuscripts lay gathering dust on her shelves? Most of those present wanted to gauge how much pain and suffering they collectively shared with the now-successful author before them. They needed her to throw them crumbs of hope to mop up their despair.

They received none. 

This was her first book. 

She wrote it as a bet during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the previous November. 

The mood in the room changed. Then, a creative writing lecturer from a nearby university stood up and asked the literary agent a different question.

“I have been writing and teaching the art of writing for twenty years. I have sent off hundreds of manuscripts, and all have been rejected. Tell me, what do I need to do to get you to take on one of my books?”

The agent took the microphone and replied, “Write something people want to read.”

When pushed further, her continued advice was, “Write something I can sell.” 

You see, dear Clueless, your future readers don’t care if you hold a PhD in creative writing, have spent all your adult life studying the occult in Historical Romance literature, or once worked at The Washington Post or the local post office. They want a good book. 

So where do you start? Perhaps, like my friend on that stage, you could join NaNoWriMo. Maybe there is a local writers’ group near you? There are also plenty of useful books and online courses that could help you with plot structure, world and character building, or how to self-publish. Why, my sweet, even this humble magazine has more than enough information to get up to speed on what to do next. 

My best advice to you is to just start. Pick an idea and begin. You can plot or pants your way through a draft, whatever works for you. You can learn to self-edit or hire a professional. You can seek out literary agents or publish yourself. The important thing is that you stop telling yourself you are too old and instead celebrate that you have over fifty years of life to draw upon.

You have fifty glorious years of meeting, working with, hating, and loving other people. Fifty years of good and bad stuff happening to you and around you. Fifty years of ideas and inspiration. Fifty years of you.

It’s never too late. Start today.

Happy writing,

Indie Annie x

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