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Writing Career: Navigating the Ups and Downs

Being a writer is like riding a bicycle . . .

My writing career has been through some exciting changes.

I spent the first three months of 2019 working with amazing student writers at the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus. I don’t teach formally much anymore, so it was fun to get back into the classroom.

My time with them coincided with signing with my new agent, the fabulous Madelyn Burt at Stonesong Literary Agency. (For more thoughts on queries, visit my past posts by clicking here.)


All of this converged to remind me that a writing career is full of ups and downs, steps forward, steps back, but above all it’s about connecting. Connecting to characters, connecting to readers, connecting to other writers, connecting to your own internal landscape.

As spring finally rears its pastel head in the Pacific Northwest, after weeks of unprecedented snow, I find myself moving into a cycle of rebirth. New projects on the horizon. New possibilities as a writer. But I’m also reminded, life is a series of cycles, life doesn’t really travel in a straight line. Or it is a straight line, but one with a lot of hills and valleys. You pick up speed, wind in your hair, then the hill appears in front of you and it takes all of your strength to keep going.

One of the things teaching reminded me, was how much we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points out we don’t know.

I taught both Playwriting and Popular Fiction, so there was a lot of the “unknown” for all of us. I had playwriting students who had never seen a play, much less written one, and I was teaching genres I never read. Luckily, my students were (mostly!) willing to take a leap of faith with me and we had a fantastic quarter exploring new worlds.

Luckily, my students were (mostly!) willing to take a leap of faith with me . . .

Then the snow hit. Snowmageddon 2019. Snowpacalypse. The storm of the century. My little community, which might see three inches of snow in a really big storm, got three feet.

Not a lot of snow for places like Buffalo or Duluth, but North Bend has two snowplows and a pickup truck to handle over 6,000 residents and rural conditions. I took a look at a color coded map online that showed when certain streets would be plowed. Red for first, orange for second, blue for third . . . my street didn’t even get a color.

This photo is of my neighbor clearing our road . . .

The National Guard came and dug my town out because emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.

Classes came to a halt.

I got a lot of my own writing done. I stayed in touch with my students through email, but there’s only so much you can do. We peddled on. Uphill. In the snow.

The roads cleared, we got back to the classroom. It was hard to get back into the rhythm of things, but we persevered. We peddled, we hit a long straightaway with no hills.

Meanwhile, my own career took a leap forward. Agent representation! Yay! I’m so excited!

But there are revisions to be done, so buckle back down. At least this time I have a guide, a beacon in the darkness of writing, someone who’s on my side.

At least this time I have a guide, a beacon in the darkness of writing, someone who’s on my side.

I give my student’s a lot of feedback. I whine at them about their inability to follow guidelines. “Formatting is for a reason! It’s so you don’t have your work rejected on sight without anyone even reading your first line!!”

I don’t get through to all of them.

But I get through to enough.

Great stories, properly formatted, the correct length. Work worthy of production or publication or at least continued rewriting.

I wonder what my career would be like if I’d done a degree in creative writing? Given myself over to others to teach me all the things I wish I’d known back when I didn’t know what I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

Life is a cycle. I’m back to being a full-time writer. I have Madelyn in my corner. The wind is at my back, the sun is warm, but not too hot. I feel I have crested a hill and in front of me, is a long downhill where I can pick up speed.

My takeaway? Revel in the moments of flight and prepare for the next hill.

Header photo Image from MabelAmber on Pixabay, click here for more information.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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