What Delayed My Writing Career? Guilt, Shame, Doubt, and a Father’s Discouraging Words… By Janet Garber

What Delayed My Writing Career? Guilt, Shame, Doubt, and a Father’s Discouraging Words… By Janet Garber

All my life I’ve distracted myself from writing, keeping myself inordinately busy, rarely leaving myself a moment, a space, a lapse. Except in my dreams. Some dreams felt as vivid as a movie. One dream begged me to make it into a book. A few decades later, I finally did.

For a long time, I felt guilty about reading. What a leech! I should have been writing—creating, not just consuming. So, yes, guilt and shame plagued me. Yet, I spent untold hours knitting, doing crossword puzzles, organizing my papers or my house, even mopping my kitchen floor (far from my favorite pastime). Any invitation from a friend to socialize I leapt upon. I took up hiking, and have always loved walking. I’m an avid movie buff and could happily see a movie every day of my life. And, how I love to eat! Sure, I’ll meet you for lunch.

I did have legitimate time-sucks: I was a single parent of one for sixteen years, a full time career woman, and a freelance journalist. I had a long commute (which I spent reading). What disrupted this pattern? Boredom that felt almost lethal brought me to my knees. And, those dreams. I couldn’t help remarking that I could write as well as the writers in the periodicals I picked up. “I can do that,” I said. At 40, I started writing for local papers, then national ones, then trade journals and then on to the Wall Street Journal publications, New York Post, Working Mother Magazine and so on. Articles on careers brought me my book deal for I Need a Job, Now What?

But…fiction? For ex-English majors like me, fiction is what counts and trumps all over forms of expression. I had tried my hand at short stories in my 20’s while living in Paris (natch!) and attending an English-speaking women’s writing group. But, then came a divorce and the move back to New York with my two-year-old son. In survivor mode, and not tempted to examine my feelings or actions, how could I write?

In the early 90’s, my son was a teenager who went out with his friends. I had few friends in our new neighborhood in Westchester and my job was literally killing me. Weekends, I started writing a workplace satire. What relief! What cheap therapy! Killing off my fictional boss—sweet revenge! After 150 pages, many written in segments during my half hour commute into the city, I inexplicably gave up. Every few years, I’d unearth the manuscript from the bottom drawer of my desk, look it over, but despair of ever pulling it together into a coherent shape.

What happened next? I found an outlet in writing book and movie reviews and I started mapping out my retirement from a long and fruitful career in human resources. A structured person, a type A++ personality, I knew I had to have goals. Not quite believing it myself, I started telling people that when I left work, I was going to be a full-time writer. To prepare, I took an online course at Gotham Writers Workshop and submitted sections of my novel-to-be. The instructor was very encouraging. She “got” it.

The second class did not go as well. That instructor pretty much ignored me, and didn’t seem to like what I was doing. At all.

I joined Fan Story and then Zoetrope – there were several other writers who seemed to understand what I was doing in the novel. Of course, my husband, hubby #2, was an early and enthusiastic fan, and we talked daily about the characters, Melie and Ted, as if they were real and sitting in our living room. I decided – he prodded me – to let Melie out.

Thereafter, I spent many hours trying to organize the scraps I had into some semblance of a novel. When I felt I could stand to do no more, I splurged on a developmental editor. A bold and positive move. She kindly pointed out the lapses in logic, lacunas, inconsistencies, mistakes and sins.

I rewrote. I tweaked. I tweaked some more.

To break up the tension, in between I was dashing off short stories and a few poems and managed to publish in a score of literary magazines. My very first short story, written in Paris and tinkered with over the years, finally saw the light of day.

This past March, I self-published Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager. No regrets. I have had lots of fun connecting with my fans, and learning a little about marketing and playing the novelist game. Now what?
I’d like to write more short stories, and possibly a Paris novel. Before that though, I will be taking a playwriting course at our local library with the idea of turning my novel into a sitcom.

In one more year, I’ll be 70. It’s taken me way too long to give in and write, to conquer my fears. A neighbor said to me years ago, “Even if you write a bad novel, it will be your bad novel, the bad novel only Janet Garber could write.”

Guess what? I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I’m still involved with friends, family, and various hobbies, but I spend many days on the computer, alone, writing, polishing, sending off my babies, trying to find them a home.

What kept me so long?

• My father ridiculing “Wild Dill Pickle Rides Again,” my ninth grade Western spoof, saying, “You’re not a real writer. A real writer would do x, y or z.”

• My ninth grade research into a career in journalism that revealed a newsroom was no place for a woman?!

• My own inertia, fear of failure, and self doubts.

(BTW my father and mother started writing for their Florida condo newsletter when they were my age, with my encouragement and blessing.)

Today: I still depend on inspiration and the sentence floating in my mind as I wake up from a vivid dream. So far I’ve managed to come up with new ideas as I finish old projects. I haven’t reached the point yet—will I ever?—of cranking out x number of words or pages per day. I’ve always resisted routines, preferring to fly by the seat of my pants.

Often these days, I “trick” myself into writing. This morning, for example, I said, I’ll just sit down at the computer and correct that last draft. The writing group thought I needed more dialogue. Hours later, my stomach is rumbling and I’m still in my nightgown. For three hours, the world disappeared. I creak when I stand up and stretch. But my smile is genuine. And I think, if that’s what it takes . . .

Don’t wait as long as I did! Give yourself permission to write. Now.


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Shame on Teachers Who Discourage Young Writers! – Part 2

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Janet Garber is fond of live blues and folk music, hiking in the “Gunks” with her hubby, mixing up weird ingredients, following printed street maps, solving puzzles, and trying to communicate with her two emotionally-challenged rescue cats. She’s published fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, articles, reviews. Her comic novel, Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager, debuted in March 2016. To learn more, visit her at:

6 Responses to "What Delayed My Writing Career? Guilt, Shame, Doubt, and a Father’s Discouraging Words… By Janet Garber"

  1. Pingback: Letters And Comments For 06/18/2016 – Michiko Katsu

  2. sophie  June 15, 2016 at 5:44 am

    Very encouraging article. I am in my early sixties, have some things in common with Janet.

  3. Janine Cox  June 14, 2016 at 12:25 am

    I thought i was the only one who would wake up from a dream with a story idea. several of my stories have come from me having dream

  4. marre5  June 11, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    So glad it’s of some help to you. Best of luck!

  5. pamelaallegretto  June 11, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Entertaining and encouraging article!

  6. Kelly  June 11, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I’m 45 and can relate to your article on so many levels. The last line will be copied and pasted to my desktop.