Susan Donovan Bernhard does not have an MFA. In the 1900s, she had two articles in Southern Bride—one on picking jewelry to match a white dress and another on theme weddings. She has had two letters to the editor printed in the Wall Street Journal. Her short stories have not been published but she did receive Honorable Mention in a few writing contests. This is her first novel.
Every day, I get up, I deal with my kids and my dog, I waste time, and eventually sit down to write. Does this make me a writer? Sure, some days I’m more productive than others. But, if not a writer, I’m not certain what I am anymore. I am a wife and a mother of two teenagers. I’m a lousy housekeeper and lazy cook. I suppose I could list my vocation as “Procrastinator” but I honestly think I spend more time working on my writing than I do putting it off. And that’s a switch for me.
I toyed with the idea of studying creative writing in college but my parents were not encouraging. Fiction writer was not a job to them and, honestly, not to me either. I couldn’t imagine how I could write stories to pay the rent. So I sidestepped and got a degree in journalism, which turned into advertising, which settled into marketing, which became complicated by parenting, which devolved into stay-at-home momming. Two kids, two dogs, one house, one renovation, two cars, one suburb and a picket fence later, I realized that, as much as I loved my life, I was wasting my own time. On October 25, 2010, (I kept the email), a friend prodded me to take a writing class at Grub Street. I enrolled in Jumpstart Your Writing with Becky Tuch in January of 2011.
My first memory of that class was getting stuck in the bathroom with soapy hands, unable to manage the separate cold and hot water faucets. I stood there, paralyzed, feeling like an idiot, with my slippery hands—one scorched, the other freezing—dangling over the sink, and read the poster hanging on the wall. “Turning Housewives Into Writers since 1990-something.” I wiped my hands on my pants and headed to class.
I worked my way up the Grub Street ladder and, two and a half years later, I’m now a student in Michelle Hoover’s Novel Incubator. On the first day of Jumpstart, I didn’t even have an inkling of an idea for a short story. Nothing. Now, I have a complete novel, which has been read, applauded, and politely panned by real live people including friends in my book group, a couple of literary agents, and my fellow Incubots. With each read, with feedback and criticism and suggestions, it’s getting better. I changed my occupation to “Writer” on my Facebook page. I have hope. I take my encouragement where I can get it, especially from other writers in the vast writer community of Grub Street and online who willingly share their stories of rejection and self-doubt that came before their own successes.
So here’s to you uncredentialed writers with a dream, not sure you have what it takes, embarrassed by what you haven’t done, wondering if you really deserve to sit in a class with other writers who seem to know more than you know or produce more than you produce. Here’s to the writer who keeps her stories in her head while she changes diapers or runs numbers in an accounting firm then switches on the light at midnight and taps out an idea and saves it in a file. Here’s to the writer who organizes his desk and goes to planning meetings and coaches soccer then slips into a pseudonym and works on a mystery that started in a club house when he was just a boy. Here’s to the writer who rolls out of bed when the moon is high to scribble on a desk blotter a name that could be as good as any of the great characters in fiction. You are working on your craft. You are taking steps forward and toward fulfilling a vision, a promise, an idea. You are a writer. Now wipe your hands on your pants and see it through.