Washington resident Lorri McDole took one of my 4-week online Memoir and Personal Essay classes this past winter and I've enjoyed keeping in touch with her and reading her work ever since. Once a technical and marketing writer for Pacific Northwest companies, she put that aside a decade ago for motherhood and creative nonfiction writing. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including The Seattle Times, Epiphany, A Cup of Comfort for Writers, Eclectica, The Rambler, New Madrid, and Brain, Child. She was a finalist for the 2007 Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction (Bellingham Review) and her story, “Authors of My Salvation” won the 2008 Spirituality category on FieldReport.com. She has work forthcoming in A Cup of Comfort for Couples (January 2011). Here, she looks back at what it took to finally commit to the writing she was meant to do.
Please welcome Lorri McDole.
In 1990, after about a year of pursuing a byline, I published a feature story in the Seattle Times and a personal piece in an obscure alternative magazine. At the time, I was working as a technical writer and had taken a nonfiction continuing education writing class, but still did not really think that I could get published. I was 29, a late bloomer, but I told myself I had all the time in the world. So I took it, and didn’t write another word for more than ten years.
I had the usual reasons—work, marriage, children—but the truth is a littler darker.
The alternative magazine editor asked me to write a monthly column and I panicked: stuffed the fledgling writer I was into the trunk of my sporty black Nissan so the fantasy writer in my head still had a chance.
Eleven years later, idling at a stoplight in my suburban neighborhood, I looked into the rearview of my minivan and there she was, that fantasy writer, messy-haired and wrinkle-faced, crawling out of the hatch. Not the beautiful, brilliant writer I’d imagined, but a cusp-of-middle-age woman, now more afraid of not writing than anything else.
She’s been prodding me on ever since, her voice loud and insistent.
Don’t stop writing, but if you do, start again as soon as possible. Do what you have to—mother, help your husband run various businesses, read, drink, shop QVC, exercise, lose weight, think about exercising, gain weight, wait—and then when your son starts kindergarten, sign on at Gotham Writers' Workshop. Imagine that your instructor is your fourth grade teacher, who will be very disappointed if you do your chores instead of your assignments.
Work your frog of a process. Write slowly. Write quickly, page after page, and delete most of it the next day. Agonize over every word, sentence, and paragraph, and then rearrange them all so that the end becomes the beginning and the beginning belongs in a new piece. Repeat until you finish a story, even if it takes forever, and then start another. It’s okay if you’re ashamed to take your process out in public, but make sure you cozy up to it in private.
Don’t expect your mother or your friend to want you to write. Be prepared for your mother to say, “So, how’s your cat?” when you tell her you’re a finalist for the upcoming Cup of Comfort anthology, or for your friend to ask, “What good’s a class if you don’t get a grade?” Expect mostly new acquaintances to be interested in your writing, and for most of your readers to be strangers.
Do some things wrong. Waste whole days hopping blogs, Facebooking, printing coupons and recipes, cyber window shopping, and deciding whether to open emails labeled, “Try this move for a supermodel butt.” Listen to the French music CD you won in a writing contest and spend the whole afternoon with a French-to-English dictionary. Obsess about things you can’t control, like getting older and dying and going all but broke due to a business failure.
Do at least one thing right. Write, even after you’re rejected 50 times and a fellow student says he can’t stand your writing. Even when you can’t stand your writing. Then, when your blog-hopping leads to a 75-word contest sponsored by Lit Park, or a submissions call for A Cup of Comfort for Writers, finish a couple of in-process pieces and surprise yourself by having them accepted. Turn your mortality obsession into a story published in Epiphany, and your money problems into an essay published in The Rambler.
Choose your epitaph. She had a supermodel butt, a floor you could eat off of, the trendiest clothes/smoothest face/shiniest hair. She was sure all that glittered was gold and didn’t stop till she got enough. She wrestled with words until she figured out how to make some sense of things in surprising ways.
Make peace with the sound of one hand clapping. Expect your writing life to be full of silence: when you’re at your desk; while you wait to hear if a story is accepted; even after you publish a piece, when you wonder whether anyone is reading you. Seek out other writers for inspiration and commiseration, and revel in the times someone notices
Be Jane Eyre. After everything, if you can say about writing what Jane said about painting—that you are “fully engaged”—there’s only one other thing you need to do. Keep writing.
Note from Lisa: If you're looking for Lorri's blog or website, she's working on both. She has lots of time, right?