by Marci Seither
One of the most often asked questions when I talk to school-age kids about writing The Adventures of Pearley Monroe is “How long did it take you to write your book?”
When I tell them it took eight years, their eyes widen. Eight years!
I started my writing journey with a family humor column for a small town paper, then moved to human-interest stories, and later wrote feature articles.
Basically, I have a 750- to 1,200-word attention span. And to top it off, all I wrote was nonfiction.
There is a world of difference between writing newspaper articles for adults and writing a historical novel for middle-school readers. I had to learn everything about writing for that age and that style, and still maintain my skills and writing experience in the nonfiction area.
How did I accomplish the task of bringing a wonderful story to print? I went to conferences, such as the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, and took classes outside of my area of writing expertise. I submitted my manuscript to be edited. I learned and rewrote. I learned more and rewrote again. That cycle lasted until I finally had a story my audience would love. A story my kids would have loved.
Receiving an Honorable Mention Award from Writer’s Digest for The Adventures of Pearley Monroe was a huge affirmation that my time of perfecting the writing craft was worth it. Interacting with students who have told me they “feel like they are Pearley Monroe” tells me I hit my mark.
Along the way, I became a better writer. It was the difference between training for a 5k run or a sprint triathlon. The cross-training had carryover value that opened doors I hadn’t considered before.
Several years ago I participated in a few sprint triathlon events. For me, the swim part of the triathlon came easy, but when it came to the biking and running … well, let’s put it this way: I figured even if I had to Stop, Drop, and Roll over the finish line I would still get the T-shirt.
Just like cross-training your body is good, so is cross-training your brain. The skills you learn in writing help you become stronger in areas you may never have considered.
Recently, I talked with the editor of Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine. They loved The Adventures of Pearley Monroe and wanted to know if I could write a short story based on the book and characters. It would almost be a “missing chapter” from the middle of the book.
That is a huge undertaking. It is not moving from one chapter to the next, it is starting from scratch and writing something that is historically accurate with characters and goals that are already established. I would be lying if I told you it was easy. I was a bundle of nerves.
But I did it.
I focused on all the things I had learned about writing fiction. I could hear the voices of those I had taken classes from. Lauraine Snelling, Gayle Roper, and Brandilyn Collins were just a few of many who helped me learn the craft. I wrote and rewrote until I had a 2,400-word story they loved and accepted.
I did something I would have never been able to do had I not been willing to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone. That is cross-training, not necessarily genre hopping.
I do not consider myself a “children’s author” or a “fiction writer.”
What do I consider myself? A lifelong learner who enjoys putting into action what I have learned and accepting challenges that stretch me as a person and as a writer.
That is the value of writers’ conferences.
The Mount Hermon faculty is an amazing group of people who are there to help you stretch and strengthen your writing skills. They know it is hard work and they are there to help you along your writing journey, cheering you on every step of the way.
Maybe you’re wondering if you have something of value worth sharing. You do.
Maybe you’re feeling that you already know everything about your area of writing. Cross-train.
Maybe you’re afraid that you will fail. Consider how you will feel if you actually move toward your goal. Now consider how you will feel if you never try.
Make 2017 the year you take action on making your dreams and goals a reality, even if it is just taking a baby step forward.
Was it worth spending eight years working on The Adventures of Pearley Monroe?
More than I could have ever imagined.
Marci Seither has written hundreds of feature stories, op/editorials, and human-interest articles for local papers as well as contributing to national publications. She has been married to her husband almost thirty years and is mom to six amazingly rowdy kiddos who have provided her with volumes of great material, loads of laundry, and symphonies of laughter. Marci encourages others with humor that packs a punch and entertains other moms with her Urban Retro style. She recently had two books published and knows how to make marshmallows from scratch. Marci is an airport shuttle assistant for the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.