Hands trembling, she skulks up the center aisle as if she is walking the proverbial plank. After she shakily giggles and glances around the room, I offer her a reassuring smile. I know, however, I’m not what she fears. Even her staring peers aren’t her biggest enemy right now. She is battling a raging beast that threatens her bravado: self-doubt. As she begins reading, though, I grin.
She has conquered her fear, pouring out her deepest self through words. She has drafted a tale that reflects her perceptions of the world and offered it for critique, good or bad. This is no small feat for anyone, especially a self-conscious teenager. As she annunciates her final lines, I realize that her strength as a writer has just been established. She risked that walk on the plank and succeeded, achieving the moment of sheer magic when a writer sees how his or her words impact others.
If a high school student signs up for my writing class, he or she is guaranteed two things: there will be copious amounts of writing, and the writing will be shared. The key to growing as a writer is to open yourself up to feedback, good or bad. Thus, with a warm atmosphere as a foundation, I help my writing students find the confidence to share their work and face honest critiques.
A few years ago, however, I was harboring a hypocritical secret. While my students were overcoming nerves to share their stories, I had a novel on my computer that only my husband knew about. I was not following my own advice.
I drafted my first novel, Voice of Innocence, as a college student, inspired by a class called “The Literature of Health and Healing.” In this class, we talked about the frailty of life and the importance of pursuing dreams. My dream was to write a novel. Over the course of several summers, I drafted and edited my love story about high school sweethearts torn apart by a wrongful conviction. Beaming with pride over accomplishing an item on my bucket list, I did what too many do—I let a lack of confidence damper my work. I filed my book away, deciding no one would read it. Sure, I wanted to be a published author, but I equated my dream to the dream of a toddler wanting to be a princess. I fantasized about seeing my book at Barnes & Noble but thought it would never happen.
Nonetheless, my husband’s encouragement and the belief that I should practice what I preach convinced me to share my work. After months of querying, Melange Books, LLC, published my novel in February of 2015 as a part of their Satin Romance Imprint. Once my book hit the shelves, I had to quickly overcome my doubts. In a sense, I became the girl with trembling hands walking the plank.
This dream coming true has been a surreal and exciting experience. There have been book signings, newspaper interviews, and a lot of questions. Other than, “How many copies have you sold?”, the most common question I’m asked is, “Will you keep teaching?”
The answer is a resounding yes.
Like writing, teaching is a passion essential to who I am at the core. Sure, it’s tough balancing my teaching career with the publishing process, but teaching gave me the courage to write, to get published, and to promote my novel. My classroom experiences have also taught me three crucial principles about being an author:
- Find Confidence
I pride myself on teaching my English classes to be highly critical readers. They mercilessly question writing choices, character development, and plot. Thus, knowing my students were reading my book was initially terrifying. However, over the past few months, I have internalized the idea that a successful author is open to criticism. No book can please everyone, which is okay. I remind myself what I remind my students: every literary work has value.
- Know Literature
As an English teacher, I’ve read hundreds of books and have led countless book talks. I see reactions to different storylines and writing choices. I see what peaks interest and what incites boredom in readers. If you want to write, you have to study literature. I have the perfect platform to know literature at its deepest level.
- Be Genuine
My job requires me to know the trends in literature, so I follow what’s on the bestselling lists. Some marketing experts tell writers to consider these aspects before starting a draft; I disagree with this prospect. When I write, I’m not thinking about what will give me great Twitter hashtags. I’m writing simply to tell a story. If you write in a genuine fashion, you’ll have a better selling point than if you write what the market dictates. As I tell my students, write because you feel a deep need to tell the story, and write in a way that makes you happy.
Most writers keep their day job, especially starting out. Thankfully, my teaching and writing careers have formed a mutualistic relationship. Standing in front of my class as a teacher turned author, I can now smile with self-assurance because my life goals have come together. Writing has made me a more knowledgeable, empathetic teacher, and teaching has helped me gain confidence in the magic of my words. Most importantly, I think I’ve instilled a sense of hope in our small town. If an average girl like me can have a book published, there really isn’t an impossible dream.
Lindsay Detwiler is the author of Voice of Innocence, a sweet romance published by Melange Books, LLC, in February of 2015. She is also a high school English teacher. Lindsay lives in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, with her husband Chad (her junior high sweetheart); their four cats, Amelia, Arya, Alice, and Bob; and their American Mastiff, Henry. Lindsay is currently working on her second novel in the women’s fiction genre.
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