Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Am a Writer

“One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

- Albert Einstein

I am a writer.

One day (hopefully soon) I will be a published writer. When that happens, I hope I’m interviewed because I want to tell my story. As an unpublished writer, nothing inspires me more than to hear success stories that include trials and tribulations of previously struggling writers. Does overnight success depress you as much as it depresses me?

Elana Johnson:



Beth Revis: Interview:

have done these types of interviews. Both of these writers have agents. Both have recently received publishing contracts. Both worked hard to get where they are.

This will be my story:

For years, I didn’t feel I had the right to be a writer. I came up with ideas, some written on paper, some typed on a computer. Then I reminded myself, I am not a writer, and those pieces were discarded.

I didn’t go to school to learn the craft of writing. While I did fine in my high school and college creative writing courses, I took them for fun. In high school, I planned to be a fashion designer, so writing wasn’t where I spent my time or energy. In college, I decided to major in History and minor in Political Science. I had different ambitions. Different dreams.

Still the ideas came. They began when I was a teenager, interfering with my sleep.

When my son attended preschool, I attempted a picture book. Without any feedback, I sent it to about five publishers. The query was wrong. The formatting of the picture book manuscript was horrendously wrong. I received a couple of form rejections and a few publishers didn’t bother to reply.

Years went by.

A spark*.

I began to write.

About six-weeks later, I was proud of my completed manuscript. I edited it with few changes. I knew someone who worked at Candlewick who gave it to an editor. Melissa Glenn Haber gave me the name of her agent, so I sent it to her.

I received rejections.

Though I didn’t know it, I had MUCH to learn.

For years:

I fumbled.

I stumbled.

I fell


on my face.

Then I received a couple of requests for fulls.


A few kind agents and editors took the time to tell me what was wrong with my manuscripts. I didn’t understand exactly what they meant. But I saved them.

I understand now.

I understand because I’ve worked hard to understand.

It took homework, collaboration, research, discipline. NOT excuses.

Grammar can’t be fudged. Submitting without having beta readers look at my work is unfathomable. Editing other people’s manuscripts makes me a stronger writer. Workshops always teach me something new. Writing everyday is a must. Doing homework is a must. Rushing to submit a manuscript before it’s ready is writerly suicide. If I want an agent or contract, I need to send them the best product I (with help from my beta readers) know how.

When I land an agent, I will count my rejections. I can’t right now or I’ll lose hope. It’s not that many for any particular manuscript. I’d do my version of polishing, querying, and then receive rejections.

I’d give up on that manuscript and move on to the next one. Sometimes, I’d do my version of changes from feedback. But I’d only send to another handful of places before giving up again.

I was in a rush to win a race. Publishing was supposed to save me.

Now I know it’s writing that saves me.

For years I queried mostly publishers instead of agents. Some people swear by that route, but if anyone had offered me a contact, I would’ve been uneasy negotiating on my own.

Now I’m trying to land an agent first. My manuscripts are on the brink of ready. REALLY ready this time. I’ve been reading to become a better writer. Books on grammar and writing. Fiction. Nonfiction. YA.

Some things haven’t changed:

I still don’t outline.

I have no writing schedule with demands of time of day, length of time, or word count.

I still need to kill extraneous words: that, of, was, were.

But I believe I’ve conquered (most) of my writing demons.

I know what a voice is and I’ve found my voice.

Maybe a round of queries will prove me wrong. But I won’t give up. When it comes to querying, I’ve confused losing a battle with losing a war. No more.

I am a writer.

I’m not a published one.

But I hope to be.

We all start somewhere. Maybe my start is similar to your start or maybe you hit the ground running. Maybe we have the same strengths and weaknesses or different strengths and weaknesses.

Marsha Moore/Talli Roland:


Karen Gowen Jones:

explain publication doesn’t mean instant success. Their hard work doesn’t stop because they’re published authors.

The work won’t stop for you.

The work won’t stop for me.

It took me four years to really, really get it.

When I made business cards for the NESCBWI conference this year, I decided to write:


Elana Johnson has it on her blog. So does Tahereh:

I’m an unpublished author, but so what?

When the subject comes up, I tell people I’m a writer. Or author. Then I say I’m not published.

What’s their reaction?

I don’t care.

I don’t hide.

I don’t fear.

I just keep working hard.

Theresa Milstein, YA Author (Albeit Temporarily Unpublished)

What’s your story?

The story of the spark is here:


  1. Theresa, brilliant post.
    You will get there and interesting as tonight I went to a book signing, Joseph O'Connor - Ghost Light- a very established writer here (and brother of Sinead O'Connor, the singer) and he couldnt be any nicer.
    I asked him what the secret was and he said, you lock the door, you disconnect the phone and simply write. So along with your post and his words tonight, I am feeling very motivated, and yes you are a writer, just not published, but you will be.

  2. Great attitude, Theresa! Keep it up!

  3. Theresa Milstein!!
    You GO girl!!!!!

    I love this post!! Wonderful, uplifiting call to (finding that agent) arms!

    I have everything crossed for you and am sending waves and waves and waves of support hugs your way!!!

    GOOD LUCK and keep up the fight!

    Take care

  4. Rockin' post Theresa!!! I'll tell you what, the minute you get the go ahead on being published let me know because I'd love to have you interviewed on my blog!!! It would be an absolute honor!

    You're the coolest!

  5. Great post! Its both wonderful and true - I just have to read your posts to see that your're a writer! - and you're also a great motivator! I echo Brigids comments here, this post makes me want to write! Thanks Theresa

  6. Dang right you're a writer!! Wear that badge poudly YA author Theresa Millstein, because soon you will be a published author. You rock! Awesome post I loved it! I'm proud to be one of your fans. I'm going to RT this on twitter right now because I don't know when I've read such an inspirational post.

  7. @Brigid, it sounds like Joseph O'Connor gave you great advice. If we don't keep writing, we can't improve. We have to make time for it. Easier said than done.

    Thanks for the support. Good luck with your writing too.

    @Flimtub, I'll check out your blog.

    @Jackee, thanks for the comment. Hopefully I can keep it up when I query instead of rolling into a ball.

    I hope your writing goes well too.

    @Old Kitty, I feel like I should be marching right now! You keep at it too. It takes courage and dedication, which you seem to have right now.

  8. @Jen, I'd be honored to be interviewed by you because your interviews are awesome! Thank you for the cool comment.

    @Niamh, I hope you keep at your writing since I enjoy your blog. I'm glad you were inspired.

    @KarenG, RT on Twitter? How hip are you? Now I'm shamed for not being on Twitter while simultaneously honored that you're RT my post! And here I was linking your blog because I find it inspirational...

  9. I listened to an interview recently with an accomplished musician. When asked for advice for others seeking success in the industry, one thing he said was to give yourself TEN years! To use that time to learn and network and grow and make connections. I think he's pretty much on the mark for many of the arts with that advice.

  10. That's a beautiful and inspiring story, Theresa. You will definitely make it.

  11. Love the story Theresa! Everyone has to learn so much in order to publish a book. I've been at this business of writing for about a year and a half - and I'm getting closer to being ready to query :)

  12. Great post - and I love the attitude!! You're a writer because you write :)

    Success is a lot of hard work and dedication - there's no such thing as an overnight success.

  13. Thanks for continually providing a snapshot of a writer's world. It's easy to forget the amount of work that goes into a finished product. Remember all of us little people when you make it.

  14. Brilliant, wonderful post. And so inspiring. It takes guts and dedication to become published, and you have it.
    You go! And have fun conquering the publishing world. We'll all be here to cheer you on.

  15. I love this post. Before last year, when I began teaching kindergarten, I NEVER considered myself a writer, not in my repertoire. Then I had stories to share and so I began sharing them orally with friend... upon many suggestions from friends, I began writing them down. The more I write, the easier it becomes. Am I a great writer? No way - but I love doing it. Writing helps me reflect in a way unlike any other. Now when I tell all of my students 'YOU ARE WRITERS' I realize, they are... and so am I.

  16. I actually don't have a specific writing schedule either, nor do I tell myself to write a certain number of words per day. I just don't care! My way of doing things works for me. And it also was not until I started work on my second novel that I began outlining, though it's a very general outline (no details).

    As you may have already read in my blog, I made some stupid mistakes too in regard to querying. It took me three months to finally write one that I KNOW is good.

    What's embarassing, though (yet also awesome) is that just yesterday an agent I had queried with one of my old, semi-crappy queries (not the worst, though) way back in April finally responded back! He said my query was confusing yet he was intrigued by the sample pages I had sent. Then he asked for a partial of my manuscript! Even if this agent ultimately rejects me, I'll finally get some needed professional advice.

    So if you persevere too, Theresa, you'll make it! :D

  17. Theresa, great post! All of us writers (and if you are reading this you ARE a writer, even if you haven't written today-- you are living, breathing, researching it, and you'll get there) need reminders that this path is a journey and there really is no destination, because even if we get that holy grail of "Published Author" it is just another step to a (hopefully) lifetime of writing.
    I love the Substitute Teacher saga! I was subbing until about 8 months ago-- and even got one publishing credit because of a particularly challenging day with some 6th graders (Substitute Initiation in My First Year in the Classroom ed. Stephen Rogers)-- so keep fighting the fight!
    I really enjoyed your writing on this blog. Stop by mine sometime: I also offer a newsletter that includes a monthly writing contest/market listing (usually about 35 markets) if you are interested.

  18. @Mary McDonald, thank you!

    @Joanne, thanks. That means I have six more years to go.

    @aLmYbNeNr, thanks for your confidence in me.

    @Jemi, I wish you the best when you're ready to query. I've learned not to rush it. I think.

  19. @Jaydee, every once in a while, I hear about an overnight success. I can only assume they wrote for years before they attempted that first publication.

    @Paul Swensdon, you're so funny. Little people? There is nobody littler than me! There's more to being a writer than I originally realized.

    @Lydia Kang, thanks. Writing with blogging support has been so much better than writing the way I used to do it.

  20. @Halpey1, even though you're a full-time teacher, I consider you a writer too. The snapshots into your world are funny and touching.

    @Amanda, it's always good to include pages in case we screw up our queries. That's what Mary from Kidlit said, and I can see why. Good luck with the request!

    @Tina Haapla, thanks for the comment and your story. I'll check out your blog.

  21. I love how you described your writing process and your attitude towards your work as a writer. You are so right in that writers can't make excuses and that they must work hard; I think that other people actually are unwilling to accept these facts. But it's clear that you are not like those people! You definitely have the right attitude towards writing. It's encouraging to me too to hear stories about people who had to work extra hard to get to where they are, because it shows that no matter how talented they are, they still have to put in 100% effort into their work.

  22. Thersa, it's 7:30 am in the morning and normally I wait until later in the day to comment on blog posts, but I saw this come through on my GoogleReader and I had to click through straight away!

    You are so right. It takes hard work (and continuing hard work) to be published and stay that way. But if it's something that we love and want to do, it'd so worth it.

    It took me ages to get my head around a whole lot of writing stuff (and I still have so much to learn) but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

    Thanks for the shout-out! :) Happy Friday!

  23. And I'm sorry I spelled your name wrong! :) Like I said... it's early!

  24. Neurotic Workaholic, thanks for the comment. I know I can do all this hard work and not get published, but I definitely won't get published without it.

    Talli, I write most of my comments around 6 am or near bedtime, so I'm sure they're riddled with errors!

    I was glad to link your blog because when you announced your book and told your story, I connected with it so I hope some of my readers do too.

  25. I haven't made it by in a few days, my bad! What a wonderful, encouraging post! I'm still in transition. If someone asks what I do, I don't automatically reply "writer", I say I'm writing a book. Not sure what I'm holding back for...

    Have a great weekend!!

  26. Vicki, glad to have you back.

    Not too long ago, I used to hide it or be hesitant. Now I own it, for whatever that's worth. Maybe it takes the edge off saying I'm a sub.

  27. Wow, you have a lot of comments! I'll interview you when you get published! I really feel that you are on the brink right now and soon someone is going to notice your work.


  28. This is an incredible post. You know already that I very much relate to your journey. I didn't think being a writer was allowed. And it took me years to get up the courage to actually do it. And now? Now is good.

  29. You just proved you dont have to be a published author to inspire: LOVED this! What a motivational charge, this was awesome!
    Thanks for that!

  30. @Aubrie, you're given me my second offer for an interview. I'd better get an agent and book published fast!

    I hope you're right. Probability is against me, but I'm going to keep trying. At this point, I don't know how not to write.

    @Rebecca, I've loved following your blog journey which seems similar to mine. And we even had BIG birthdays near one another.

    I'm glad your writing is going well.

    @Clara, I'm glad you're inspired. I love when I have periods like this. It's important for me to focus on writing because I'm burned out from subbing.

  31. Great post of inspiration. Keep working at it, you'll get there. There's a saying,I hope I have it right,"The way to get to Carnige Hall is to Practice, Practice, Practice." This just came to mind as I read your post. Keep writing!
    Is school out yet? It is here.
    Have a wonderful day!

  32. Choices, that's a good saying. Thank you for the comment.

    School isn't out until 06/23. Ugh!

  33. A wonderful post, Theresa.

    I know this will inspire many new writers. :)

    Happy Weekend!

  34. Reading your books and your posts, I agree, you are a writer.

  35. For are a writer. Loved this Theresa. Spoke to all my own doubts and insecurities. Good for you getting business cards printed. I toyed with the idea for conferences but chickened out. Well done you! It will not be long now until you joing the growing list of published blogger friends. I feel it in my bones!

  36. @Lola, thank you. I hope my post inspires new writers.

    Sheila, thanks!

    Ann, we all have doubts and insecurities but we should own what we love, who we are.

    Go get some cards made! Mine are from Colorful Images. It's not the best photo, but for two-sided, 250 cards were about $20. I can send a photo of the back if you want to see. My scanner wouldn't connect, which would've shown what a lovely job the company did.

  37. YES you are a writer!!!

    And I believe in you!!!!

    It's so easy to get disappointed when you haven't hit a milestone like landing an agent or a book deal, but you're completely right. It's a journey. Look how far we've come!

  38. @MBW aka Olleymae, thanks for the nice words! I'm trying to celebrate the act of writing and the progress there over the coveted milestones. Otherwise, it's easy to become discouraged.

  39. This is beyond inspiring, and not just because you linked to me. I have felt this way. Said these things. I KNOW exactly the depth of feeling in the words.

    And you will be a published author one day.


  40. Yes, we all start somewhere. Nice to meet you, fellow writer:) Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    Happy weekend,

  41. Wow. What a powerful and inspiring post, Theresa! You've included some wonderful links, too. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Like you, few things inspire me more than the stories of fellow writers. :-)

  42. @Elana, nobody understands writers like other writers.

    I hope you're right!

    @Karen Lange, thanks for stopping by my blog too.

    @Shannon, I'm glad you like the links and the post!

  43. Hi Theresa,

    Wow, you made me think as well. I reading some great blogs tonight.

    I'm on my first proper WIP and I agree that writing everyday makes a difference. Its a discipline but I really enjoy it. Thanks for visiting my blog and following too. Happy writing ;)

  44. Talei, good luck with your first proper WIP. If I'd read blogs when I wrote my first manuscript, I probably wouldn't have made so many early mistakes.

    Thanks for becoming a follower too!

  45. Hi Theresa,

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. This is a truly amazing post - I've been struggling recently, and I'm so glad to know I'm not alone.

    I've always loved writing, but I lost track of it for about 7 years when I decided it was time to make it in the "real" world because where would writing get me? I've been writing again consistently for the past 2 years and have rekindled my love affair with it all over again.

    Stories such as yours are so real and relatable (yes, the overnight successes make me depressed too ;) ).

    This is very inspiring and don't worry even a little bit, I know you'll make it!

  46. Love this. Your words are absolutely inspiring and all the writers you have listed are the ones I seem to follow as well. Thank you, so much, for the positivity. We writers really need it!

  47. What an awesome and inspiring post! I think you know when you are a writer - there is a point at which you're willing to own the title. It is very different for each person.

    I was willing to own the title "writer" very early on, meaning that "I'm writing in a serious way. I'm going for this dream."

    I'll be willing to own the title "author" when my book is published - and even then, there is some trepidation! Funny.

    I think there is a point, though, that I am just recently reaching, where you have confidence in your writing. Not "I'm God's gift to writing" irrational exuberance, but the calm "This is good work" kind of confidence in your writing.

    It's finding your voice, and not being afraid to use it.

    Best of luck to you! I know you'll get there! :)

  48. @WritingNut, how wonderful you've gone back to writing again. There are certainly more practical jobs out there. I got certified in a practical field, but can't find a job right now.

    I'm glad you were inspired. Thanks for the nice comment.

    @Foldingfields, there are too many days when we don't feel like this. When the insecurities pick at us.

    @Susan Kaye Quinn, good for you that you could call yourself a writer early on. First I thought I wasn't qualified to write. Then I was worried about being judged. So silly in retrospect.

    I was saving author for the published realm, but when I looked it up, it doesn't seem author is reserved for only published writers. Besides, my blog is "published".

    That paragraph you wrote about confidence is absolutely right.

    @Clutterbug, thanks for being inspired!

  49. Awesome post, Theresa! I loved reading your story, and yes, it's so similar to mine!

  50. Loved this post! I like where your head is at these days. Keep up with the positive self-speak. :) /hugs

  51. The road to publication is a journey, isn't it? The process, learning the craft -- really learning it -- is what it's all about. Thanks for this wonderful post, for sharing your story, and for inspiring me.

    Have a fab weekend!

  52. @Susan Fields, it's cool to know we have similar stories.

    @Shannon, thanks. I'm going to try to keep this head through the query process.

    @Nicole Ducleroir, thank you. It is all about learning the craft. To write is not enough.

  53. Love the post, Theresa! With your talent and motivation, I fully believe you will land an agent soon. And when you do, I will be one of the first in line to buy your book.

    Thanks for visiting Head in the Clouds. Hope you come back, soon.

  54. Great post, Theresa, absolutely inspiring! The road to publication is a rocky one, but I've no doubt you will come out on top. Success will be that much sweeter for your struggle.

  55. VR Barkowski, I agree that the road to publication is a rocky one. Thanks for the nice words.

  56. Wonderful post, and no doubt before long this is what you will be telling your interviewer when they want to hear about your journey to publication.

  57. Amazing post, Theresa! I can totally see that as an interview, and I can't wait to read it!

  58. @Alissa, I hope you're right! Thanks for the comment.

    @Bridge Marie, thanks!

  59. I, too, am a writer, albeit one who is unsure of where to place commas. When I was laid off from my high tech marketing job in September, I decided to dedicate myself to writing fulltime (having tried once before to write and work, and given it up for hopeless). When people ask me what I'm doing, I tell them I'm writing a YA novel. An unpublished writer friend of mine was horrified when I told her that. She doesn't tell people because she doesn't want to explain why she's not published. I, however, need the support of my friends. If I don't tell them I'm struggling, how will they know to say, "Hang in there. You can do it!" So, Theresa, hang in there. You can do it! And you can inspire the rest of us along the way.

  60. @ Judy Mintz, I've, gotten, so much, better, at commas, mostly. I'm, quite, fond, of them.

    Good for you for admitting to being a writer. Geez, we act like we admit to being drug addicts with our secrecy sometimes!

    Thank you for telling me I can do it. You can too.