Author Ann Elia Stewart blogs about writing
My son left after a two-week visit for what has become his new "home" -- Los Angeles. I didn't think it would ever happen for this talented free spirit of mine, leaving home (and so far away) and then – getting used to it. So much so that on his third day here, he was ready to go back. He's a special effects makeup artist, something he had finally come to terms with about a year post-high school graduation. You see, it's one of those professions that can only be truly exercised in a few places, LA being one of them. So it appears unattainable. A few low-income, lousy jobs here at home gave him the impetus to seek out higher education (a sixteen-month program, outside of Pittsburgh, on all aspects of special makeup effects where the student earns an associates degree in specialized business). My son hated school. It was all my husband and I could do to make sure he graduated, though he was perfectly capable. Just not inspired. At all. Throughout his school years, he continued to work on his sculpting skills, and I have boxes and boxes of little sculpy monsters and vampires in my attic to prove it. My home also boasts a zombie bust and a half-man/half-monster emerging from the ground. These early masterpieces pointed to the way my son thinks: he loves all things monster. It was easy for me to see as his mother where his passions should take him. Fast forward to completing the sixteen-month program: he graduated with a 3.9. One week later, he's off to Los Angeles to sleep on a former graduate's sofa (he didn't know her, only that she graduated from the same program a year before; it's that kind of school), and while his first six months proved to be rocky as he grappled with homesickness, an entirely foreign environment (not to mention driving the 405!), and realizing that he had to put himself out there for every single job he'd be lucky to land, here he is, twenty months into his new life in LA, and he has successfully supported himself, made pathways in a highly competitive industry and in some cases, is the go-to person for sculpting and painting on certain projects. He's young (22) so he has the energy and the determination to keep moving forward. He also has two parents cheering him on the whole way, providing an enormous safety net beneath him. But, that's nothing new for parents of kids who are not exactly mainstream. Well, parents who care to understand their kid who isn't exactly mainstream.
What does this have to do with writing? This: during his recent stay at home, several of my son's former school mates paid him a visit. Two are working in their field on the east coast, but the job is more factory-like: they paint prosthetics. In my kitchen they bemoaned the fact that at the end of their day, the last thing they wanted to do was apply makeup on performers, or anyone, even themselves! In less then two years of joyfully sailing out of their college with a diploma in hand, it seemed to me they have already given up any hope. What they loved, their passion for creating monsters,just wasn't attainable in their minds.
Writing is a lot like that. I've been at it for forty-six years now (if you count a competition-winning essay at the age of nine! Go ahead, do the math, I embrace it!) and while I have felt like giving up many times, my passion for writing simply will not allow it. At the age of 55, I finally found a publisher for my debut novel, twice a child, a story written from my heart. My husband commented recently that he would have given up a long time ago; he marvelled at my perseverance over the years. And still, I feel there is such a long way to go. Promoting the book is more difficult than writing it — trying to attract readers, identifying specific websites that could help share it with a community dealing with the difficult task of caring for someone with dementia (the subject of the novel), finding venues to address book clubs or festivals. . .all time consuming, exhausting and yet, in some strange way, exhilarating when something actually happens.
Something like this: a recent post on a wonderful website, http://wewantedtobewriters.com/2012/10/books-by-ann-stewarts-bed/. A dear writing friend of mine who happens to write the best book reviews ever (Harvey Freedenberg) urged me to join Twitter-land, and while I balked at first, I discovered a huge community of writers just like me. People who do not have the benefit of an agent or publication from the Big Five, but who are no less passionate or accomplished. With work, a targeted approach to getting the word out about your work, and luck, things can happen.
So, if you love zombies and monsters, do something about that. Go to school and learn how to make them. Then put yourself into the right environment that will help you grow and prosper. Likewise, if you love to write, well, sit your butt down in the chair, put your fingers to the keys and write! Just know that success (however you define it) does not come overnight or the next week, or the next year. Or the next ten. (Unless you write badly about bedroom antics.) It may never come in the form of the societal definition.
Success, to me, means you are honoring your passion. You did what you could to spread the word. But you didn't give up. You never give up.