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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Eliot

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

I started this writing journey in childhood. I remember writing a story in probably fourth or fifth grade that got me invited to a young writers "conference". It was a day long event at a school in another district. The only thing I remember is standing at a podium with my "manuscript"--a series of pages with hand-written text and illustrations, held together with a long plastic binding--reading aloud and realizing halfway through that it was much longer than most of the stories all the other kids read.

Looking back, the story was an excellent indicator of the writer I'd become. It was an epic love triangle set in early colonial America. I know for a fact, I'd lifted elements from a book I'd read set in that time. It was essentially fanfic. And it was a romance. And it was wordy. And it was too long. So many of these traits remain in my writing.

But instead of carrying on in creative writing, I took a detour as an actor for a few decades. I got a degree in acting and was hired to do seven shows a week as part of a resident sketch comedy cast. I also improvised there and became a teacher. Eventually I started my own improv company (in 2000 and still going!) and started writing plays. It's funny because whether I was writing sketches, plays, video scripts, or the screenplays that will live, unproduced in my laptop forever, I never considered myself a writer. It wasn't until my fourth or fifth play was produced that I deigned to give myself that title.

I accidentally started reading romance novels in earnest in my mid thirties, about ten years ago. I was out of town on a conference for work and I'd read the two books I brought with me. I needed something to read on the flight home, so I stopped in the airport book store. I saw a book that seemed right up my alley: historic setting, Scottish Laird, and a kidnapping of a high society girl. By the time we'd been in the air for twenty minutes or so, I got to the first steamy scene. Oh my. I tore through the book and read it twice more at home after my trip. Shortly thereafter, my husband bought me a kindle and I consumed probably three books a week or more. I started on the traditional historic "bodice rippers" and eventually made my way to contemporary romance, a genre I didn't think I'd like but really enjoy.

I read every heat level, every setting, everything I could get my hands on. After a few years I was so far down the rabbit hole, I decided to write a play about a romance author. It's called Alone with Friends and tells the story of a shut-in author whose characters become her imaginary friends and make it challenging when she finally decides to start dating again. I really enjoyed writing it and was pleased with how it turned out, but somehow it didn't totally scratch the itch I had. I didn't realize that what I really wanted was to write a novel of my own.

I started a historical romance (still unfinished and super long!) while on maternity leave with my son. I've always been a pantser, so I dove in and didn't do any outlining. Just wrote and wrote. It's not utter garbage, but two things hold me back from finishing: it needs a lot of work and I fear being blasted for historical inaccuracy.

An idea for a contemporary piece arose around the time I ran out of steam on the historical, so I went ahead and wrote that. Again, no idea what I was doing or where it was headed, just started writing. The first draft was 140,000 words. At the time I didn't realize how epic that was. I just told the story the way it needed to be told. It was my first baby and I adored it. it was trope-y and wordy, but I was immensely proud. I've since gotten it down to 120,000 words and have probably re-read it upwards of a hundred times.

Since that book I wrote a sequel and half of a third book to make it a series. I'm halfway through a novel that is a prequel story to a pioneer play I wrote called Snowbound. I'm also halfway through an adaptation of a Jane Austen-type screenplay I wrote called A Novel Love, and just finished a manuscript with a main character who is an improviser that I'm super jazzed about.

I've been researching agents and working up the courage to send queries. I don't fear rejection. I'm a lifelong actor, and a plus size one at that, so my skin is as thick as an elephant's. I haven't really figured out what's holding me back. Every time I gear up to get my stuff out there, I seem to have a new inspiration and end up churning out more content.

But the time is now. I want to see if my impostor syndrome is for a reason. I don't really know what I'm doing, but I know I have a passion for it. I vacillate daily between thinking everything I write is utter garbage and sheer brilliance. I'm used to my creative outlet being in front of an audience who will give me immediate feedback (good or bad) by laughing, crying, or looking bored. The idea of my work out in the world being read by people I'll never meet is both exhilarating and terrifying.

I've come too far to never find out if all this passion and hard work is focused in the right direction. I'm ready to get out there and take my lumps. It's time to forgive myself for not knowing what I'm doing and embrace that acknowledging the gaps in my knowledge of craft and industry is the only way to learn and grow.

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