Getting the Words Out

My first job out of college was copywriter for a hobby-craft company. Writing was the perfect job for me, because I’d stuttered so badly since childhood that most verbal communications got my undies in a bunch. I sprinted through catalog descriptions, magazine advertising, newsletters, replies to customer letters, and words that were printed on the company’s product packaging, with little fear of embarrassing myself. I felt like a ventriloquist when company executives gave conference speeches mouthing words I’d written for them, words I couldn’t speak out loud without inner turmoil.

My writing projects had short, hard deadlines, dictated by the person or department that needed the written material. Back in the dark ages of pre-internet, pre-desk top computers, I learned to research with focus groups and at the library and crank out copy on demand, on my electric typewriter. Then I’d pass it around for scrutinizing critiques, rewrite it to the satisfaction of designated readers, and send it along for their final written approvals on the copy folder, hard copy of course.

By then I was a single mom with a family to support. Over the years my jobs changed dramatically, and my titles became more impressive. I gradually forced myself to pick up the phone and initiate calls, to speak to work teams, to make business presentations. It took decades of time and gallons of sweat to become comfortable talking out loud, but it did get easier. And during all that time I was always researching and writing and rewriting something. Training materials for in-house classes I taught. Contract guidelines for business partnerships I managed. Marketing materials for businesses I started and sold. Grants for groups on which I volunteered.

I started writing fiction late in life, compared to some. I was driven to keep writing, so I searched online for local writers’ groups I might visit for advice on how to get started in a new semi-retirement career.

During my first visit to the Atlanta chapter of Sisters in Crime, the speaker asked her audience for an elevator pitch for a novel. I could hardly believe how quickly my hand shot up. Time had taught me, forced me, to say out loud what was important to me, fearlessly, even if I did still stutter now and then. I’d come to realize almost everyone does. Anyway, I’d recently lost my dad to dementia, and I verbally spewed out the plot for a story about a doctor who comes from the future with a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It generated mild applause and favorable comments, and I was on my way. I joined critique groups, taking in the members’ comments and guidance on my first self-published novel of speculative fiction, and then my second.

I’d been used to shorter, situation specific writing, and one of my greatest challenges was the long haul of creating stories that spanned thousands of words. But I enjoyed the finished products, and the thrill of holding a book in my hand with my name on the cover, my ideas and words inside, was like no other.

A fickle person, I now bow to my inner muse. I’m currently back in love with shorter reads and writes: novellas, short stories, flash fiction. I lead a short story critique group called Retro Writers, have stood up and taught short stories at a local university, and have published a collection of my own shorts.

I could not have imagined, those many years ago, that I would one day stand in front of a class and teach, lead an online writers’ group, do anything that would involve my own verbal expression. I’m so pleased that I can now speak out loud the words I write.