The Stages of a Writer’s Life or How Not to Retire from Writing

I wanted to be a writer from the time I began to read, and I don’t even remember when that time was–before I started school, I know. I wrote during all of my years in the classroom, wrote for high school and college newspapers and annuals, the college literary magazine, took what writing classes were available. Then I married too young, had babies–distracting creatures, babies–and got sidetracked a bit but never stopped writing. In my twenties I got serious about wanting to sell and wrote my first novel.
I knew that writing was a joy, a labor, sometimes an exquisite pain, but it took me a good while to realize that publishing was a business, and one I knew nothing about. So I wandered in the wilderness for what seemed an eternity, sending out manuscripts and getting back form rejections until I discovered writing conferences. Classes and contacts, information!
Fairly soon I had an agent and then two book sales, and I was off. It wasn’t always smooth sailing by any means, but I’m very stubborn–I persevered during downs as well as ups, kept writing and selling . . . 50 something books later. . .and then a family health crisis took precedence over everything else.
I’d managed to stay afloat through many changes in the publishing world. I’d passed up the safer choice of going back to teaching after my husband died too young. I’d worked day and night, literally, to write and hold a position with a national/international nonprofit writers’ group, I’d traveled to research and speak and promote my books. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it all. But this time everything had to come to a halt, and everything did.
My daughter had three back surgeries back to back, no pun intended, and was ordered to complete bed rest between the second and third. However, she also had a toddler whom we affectionately called the Energizer Bunny and a husband who obviously had to keep his own job, for health insurance as well as to pay their mounting medical bills. So I had to be at their house 12 hours a day. You can imagine trying to write while jumping up every ten minutes to rescue a gleefully manic tot from his rush into doom… After that there were more family health issues, and then, later, I developed some health concerns of my own. And somewhere in there we had the Great Recession and book sales went down across the boards, which didn’t help my career.
So a few years back I decided that perhaps it was time to slow down. That being free of tight deadlines would be a good thing, that it was okay not to feel the need to write six and a half days a week. That not having to get on yet another air plane and fly across country might be a relief–travel is not as much fun as it once was. And I could go to town halls, march in protests, write letters, try to save the country, the planet. Have a life.
And do fun things too. Spend more time with my grandchildren. Have more lunches with friends.. Go to movies, symphony events, plays, special museum exhibits.
Have a life.
But one unexpected thing. After the first few weeks, the ideas came back. The characters slipped into my head, hung off my ears and kicked my cheeks. “Look at me,” they’d say. “I have a story to tell.”
You can’t stop the stories.
The fact is, I am a writer to the bone. It’s not a job, not a profession, even, it’s who I am and who I will always be. So I continue to write. I haven’t submitted any of the short books or novellas–it’s a pleasure to write to my own whim–even though writers do like to be read. I could self publish but I’m not sure I want to go that road–you still have to to PR if you want to attract readers and I’m really awful at self promotion.
But I know as long as my fingers work, I’ll be writing.

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About Cheryl

Cheryl Zach has published over 50 books, mostly for young adult and middle grade, some for adult readers as Nicole Byrd. Her YA titles include the Southern Angel series: Hearts Divides ( which won the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion), Winds of Change, A Dream of Freedom, and Last Rebellion. Her YA Runaway won the RWA Rita award, and she is a member of RWA's Hall of Fame. A military brat, she changed schools 10 times in 12 years, won a National Merit Scholarship, holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and taught school before stopping to write full time. Born in TN, she has lived in TN, TX, GA, on the MS Gulf Coast, in southern CA, in Britain and Germany and has visited most of the other states and several other countries. She has spoken at schools and workshops around the country.

2 thoughts on “The Stages of a Writer’s Life or How Not to Retire from Writing

  1. Cheryl, this is so inspiring. Thank for your heartfelt thoughts and your courage to continue to go forward. Your books are terrific and need to be read. Miss you! Edie