Trust Your Writing Instincts

There is a lot of good advice available for aspiring writers. Many successful authors have offered tips on how to succeed in their chosen craft. I've benefited from other writer's sage wisdom in the past, and have been grateful that people more skilled than I have been willing to share their experiences. But lately, I'm starting to wonder if I would have been better off ignoring some of the advice I've received and trusted my instincts instead. Allow me to explain.

As an avid, lifelong reader---okay, a book junkie---I have always loved getting lost in the pages of a good book. So it was only natural that I developed an interest in writing when I was young. I started writing short stories in elementary school, and enjoyed the process immensely. Although I stopped writing in high school, I returned to it with a vengeance in college. For several years I never went anywhere without a notebook and a couple of pens. I remember riding my bike home from my restaurant job one night, and being so inspired by the way the nearly full moon illuminated the streets that I skidded to a halt, pulled out my notebook, and scribbled away. Completely obsessed, I recorded not just my impressions of the lighting, but managed to work it into a short story I was writing at the time.

Despite loving literature, I was majoring in biology at the time.  When school was in session, I spent most of my time between classes in the library. I'd walk in with the intention of studying, but inevitably I'd be drawn to the fiction stacks. I read voraciously and, seeing all the great novels housed in the building, harbored fantasies of becoming a fiction writer.

I changed course abruptly in my junior year after attending a lecture by a locally renown novelist who taught in the English department. He talked about his struggles to support his family on a writer's earnings, then cited an interesting statistic. He said that 95 percent of everything published in the United States at that time was non-fiction, and just five percent was fiction. If any of you have any aspirations of writing for a living, I suggest you write non-fiction, he added.

I took his advice, and have spent the last 26 years as a freelance journalist. While my career has evolved over the years, and I've written for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, non-profits, and advertisers, one thing remained consistent. I wrote only non-fiction, and had no desire ever to write fiction again.

That all changed one day recently. A friend, who like me has always been fascinated by people and their behavior, told me about a woman she had met who essentially raised her 6 younger siblings because both their parents had schizophrenia. Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head, and I decided I just had to write a novel. Although  I was no longer able to churn out words almost effortlessly as I had in college, I rediscovered the joy that comes from creating my own world while writing Playing the Genetic Lottery. Working on the novel was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as a professional writer, and that got me thinking.

Will it pay the bills? That remains to be seen, but chances are no. Do I wish I'd stuck with fiction over the years? Yes and no. I've enjoyed my career, but I'll never know what I could have created if I'd dedicated my career to writing novels. So do I have any advice for aspiring writers? Just two tidbits. First, trust your instincts. And second, don't take anybody's advice, even my own.

Guest post by Terri Morgan. Terri Morgan is a freelance journalist who's work has appeared in dozens of different magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four sports biographies for young adults, and the co-author of two others. She is the co-author of two books on photography: Photography, Take Your Best Shot, and Capturing Childhood Memories, The Complete Photography Guide for Parents. Playing the Genetic Lottery is her first novel. She lives in Soquel, California.

Playing the Genetic Lottery: Caitlin Kane knows more about the impact of schizophrenia than most people could imagine. Both her parents were afflicted with the devastating mental illness, a disease that tends to run in families, and Caitlin and her brother grew up trying to navigate the chaos of living with two schizophrenics. Her  tumultuous childhood left Caitlin determined to forge a peaceful and serene life for herself. Now 32, she is living her dream. Married to her best friend, she and her husband are raising two bright young children in the suburbs of Seattle. While her unusual upbringing has left Caitlin with emotional scars, she enjoys the love and support of her extended family and her challenging career as a pediatric nurse. But no matter how hard she tries, she can't shake the obsessive fear that the family illness will strike again, robbing her of her mind or stealing away the sanity of one or both of her children.


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