Becoming a (paid) writer

This week, I have signed two different contracts: one to write 13 weeks of adult Sunday school lessons, and another to write a number of sermon series helps.  And about a week before that, I received news that a book that I contributed an essay to is going to be coming out in October.

I am no longer a person who sits at her kitchen table and writes stuff – I am now a person who is paid to sit at her kitchen table and write stuff.  Wow.  I am a writer, y’all!  Wow wow wow.

While I agree with Anne Lamott that “if you write, you are a writer,” it helps for someone to like your stuff enough to read it.  And it helps, too, if they like it well enough to pay to read it.

I started blogging because I needed a creative and intellectual outlet for my preacher turned stay-at-home mom self. I didn’t really have any thoughts of becoming a writer per se – I intended to get my PhD, or return to the parish.  I knew that some people who blog had gotten publishing deals that way, but I also was aware that those people were generally more disciplined bloggers than I had been – they wrote at regular intervals, or had a gimmick or at least a theme that they hewed to closely.  They had not simply written about whatever occurred to them whenever it was convenient to do so.

On the other hand, I had known people who had tried to take the “conventional” route to becoming a writer – sending one unsolicited manuscript after another to publisher after publisher, collecting a hundred or more rejections on their way to (maybe) getting something published. Did I have the discipline for that? The conviction?

I spent a lot of time thinking about “what next?” but “become a writer” didn’t even make the list most of the time.

Then, a little more than a year ago, I stopped trying to look ahead and instead took a look around. I was doing or had done everything that my five year old self had wanted to do or be as a grown up. (Admittedly with the single exception of being married to Greg Brady, which could never happen, given that he was a fictional character.  And in any case, my husband is way cooler than Greg Brady.) I had been a pastor, I was a mom, I was married, I could cook and sew and drive a car. I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without anyone telling me any different. Life was good.

Context matters.  “What’s next?” became a different question when it arose out of contentment with where I was rather than out of anxiety about not being where I “ought” to have been.

“Life is good – what next?”  Write.  I wanted to write.

Now, it is only fair to mention here that I was scared to say so. I am an American, and Americans are supposed to produce stuff.  Graduate school produces a degree, and a job produces money, but writing might only produce a bunch of ugly drafts that nobody wants to see.  I was scared to tell my husband what I wanted, even though he is super supportive, and even though we didn’t need for me to make money.  And that’s the other thing to mention:  if you need to make money (and most people do, given that money is good for buying things like food and electricity and a place to stay and so on) then writing is not a particularly reliable way to do it.  Certainly not at first.  Writing is for people who are well off enough to not have to work, or who are young and don’t have children and could always crash on a friend’s sofa if it came to it. And writing is for other people too, but only squeezed in those hours when they are not doing their paying job(s). I owe it to my less-well-bankrolled writer friends to fess up to this.  It was scary for me to admit that I wanted to write, and I didn’t even have my own or anyone else’s ability to live comfortably riding on the enterprise.

But my husband was all for it, and so I came up with a plan: I would give it a year and see what happened.  The year would start with my daughter entering kindergarten, in September 2012 – which would give me a lot more time for uninterrupted reading and thinking and writing and editing.  I would consider myself a writer starting in September, and I would see how it felt and if anything came out of it.

Great plan, but things started happening long before September rolled around.  On 22 May 2012 I wrote an entry entitled The Six Essentials for Preaching to Children, and it went viral – or as viral as these things go when you are writing something that is really only of interest to Protestant worship leaders.  Within less than 24 hours, it had caught the eye of Jessica Kelley, the editor of Ministry Matters, who asked if she could blend that entry with another entry of mine into one article, and publish it on her site. Sure, I said, as long as she linked to my blog, and she did.

That was pretty exciting, but then she invited me to write more for their website.  So I did. And then, when talking to her about a book idea about sermon helps, she asked if I would be interested in writing an article for the Circuit Rider sermon series issue (Feb/March/April 2013).  Yes I was interested! And so I got my first paying gig.

This gave me confidence enough to query after other opportunities, which led to a bunch of rejections that hurt my confidence a little, but not enough to keep me from trying again and again.  And the trying again led to me landing a contract to write for a popular Sunday school series, and also to me writing an essay for the book I mentioned above (Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, White Cloud Press, October 2013.)

But the Circuit Rider job led to still another job – this time another job that came to me, much as the Ministry Matters work had come to me.  The Circuit Rider is a publication of the United Methodist church with a wide professional readership – it is sent to the pastors and former pastors and employees of boards and agencies and so on… and one of these readers was looking through the sermon series issue hoping to find a writer who could write sermon series helps while still having respect for the liturgical year. And she found me. After a couple of months of talking with one another, I am on board to start contributing sermon series helps in the next couple of weeks!!

As time goes on, I will share more about each of the three upcoming projects: the Sunday school lessons, the sermons series helps, and the book of essays.  But for now, I am feeling really grateful for having the opportunity to give writing a go.  And I am looking around me, thinking that I have done or been everything my 17 year old self wanted to be and do, including being a writer and being married to Brian McGiverin.  Admittedly with the exception of being a singer-songwriter, and knowing how to play the guitar.  But there is still time. 🙂

Vertigo

Yesterday, I decided to introduce my six-year old to U2.  I had How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in the car (yes, an honest to goodness CD – I am an old woman, clearly), and popped it in. “What’s this?” she asked. “U2,” I answered.  “YouTube?” she asked, incredulously.  But after getting the band name straightened out, she decided that she liked “Vertigo,” the opening track on the album.  Which meant that she begged me to put it on endless repeat, just like she does every time she discovers a new favorite song.  So while driving her around town today, I heard that song more than ten times in a row.  She was right – it didn’t get old.  Instead, it unfolded, becoming more interesting the more I listened to it.  She liked how they sang, “Hello, hello” in the beginning, and how it was fast, and how all the guys in the band shout together at some points.

As for myself – I move in and out of a spiritual state like the one described in the song, and I found a lot of phrases worth latching onto, not least, “It’s everything I wish I didn’t know…” Listening to the song on repeat gave me the opportunity to cycle through the overwhelmingness of everything that is wrong with the world and myself into the mysteriousness of God’s presence into gratitude for the Love that is teaching me how to kneel, even as my mind continues to wander. How could my desires continue to be so disordered after so many years of seeking and finding? Some days, I hardly know what to make of myself, in light of St. Paul’s advice that Christians should consider themselves “dead to sin.” Like dear old John Wesley, I have to wonder sometimes if I am saved after all. Honestly, it comes as a relief that Bono, who is clearly at least as God haunted as I am, and almost 15 years older, is still working out this stuff too – or at least he is still writing about it. Obviously, I could get these insights elsewhere, say Teresa of Avila for instance – but Teresa of Avila does not have 5 minute pop songs that endlessly amuse my kindergartener while I muse on God, sin, and the spiritual life.

Maybe the fifth cassette (Cassettes! Remember cassettes? No?) that I bought was the earliest purchase that I still listen to: Joshua Tree. I was 14. I spent a truly obnoxious amount of time alone in my room, listening to it over and over again.  For months. And then I spent all of my allowance buying up all of their earlier albums. Also on cassette.

I think that the days are behind me when I could happily listen to nothing but U2.  But I haven’t tried it lately, so it may be possible.  There are a lot of bands that I have outgrown – their music is still fun, or even interesting, but the lyrics are juvenile, or insulting, or boring, or repetitive… As I look at my collection of CDs, U2 is one of those bands whose lyrics have staying power.  Good thing, too.  Looks like I am going to be listening to U2 for the next few months whenever my daughter is in the car – or at least I’ll be listening to “Vertigo.”