The Christmas my first book was being published, my younger daughter gave me a beautiful pen engraved, Johnnie Gaskill, Author. As I blinked back tears over the gift commemorating my arrival at that significant milepost, I realized I could never have reached that destination without the help of other writers.
Soon after I began to write (February 1984), I attended a writers’ workshop. The keynote speaker said, “Start with the smaller markets. See if your local newspaper will agree to print your stuff.” Although I’d hoped to discover shortcuts to success, his words made sense. I took his advice. And, wonder of wonders, the first editor I contacted accepted my little inspirational pieces. Seventeen years and several editors and publishers later, they’re still publishing my weekly Reflections. With minimal effort, I secured a spot in two other newspapers, bringing the weekly distribution to approximately 30,000. No small feat for someone who previously balked at writing anything other than long-overdue notes!
From the beginning, I knew I needed help. I “devoured” writers’ magazines and books. As I incorporated relevant ideas, my writing improved. However, I remained a “writer alone,” encouraged by friends and family but deprived of the spark that comes through personal contact with other writers.
That changed, however, after my husband retired. We relocated to a town with an active writers’ group. The members encouraged me to enter writing contests and to submit my work. I purchased a copy of Writer’s Market, highlighted possibilities, sent for writer’s guidelines, and filed them away. Frightened by the uncharted path ahead, I did little more than plod along with my columns. Thankfully, one member insisted that I send something in and also try my hand at writing fiction and poetry. I finally did as she asked; and, wonder of wonders, some editors said, “Yes,” and three of my contest entries received “Honorable Mention” in ByLine (http://www.bylinemag.com/), frequently recognized by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 50 publishers friendly to freelancers. (Like Sir Isaac Newton, I attribute much of my success to the fact that I’ve been “standing on the shoulders of giants,” enabling me to see the best route to follow.)
Encouraged, I resumed my journey toward authorship. I followed the advice I found on websites and in magazines, e-zines (such as WritersWeekly.com) and books. I learned to take an idea and re-write it with a different slant, to reduce my 500-word columns to 250-word devotionals, to keep a journal and to “mine” it for ideas, to obtain information via the Internet, and to submit my work electronically. I continued to attend conferences where I met writers and editors who shared ideas and leads. I bought an AlphaSmart 3000 (www.smartinput.com) battery-operated word processor that allows me to write anywhere, anytime. As I visit other writers’ websites, I’m learning how to improve my own and how to market my forthcoming book.
Insights come from everywhere. For example, while watching The Barney Show with my ten-month-old granddaughter, I heard the cast singing, “You learn big things a little at a time.” That’s it! I thought. I’ve learned a big thing – how to become an author – a little at a time – from friends and strangers – even children! Watching my grandchildren learn to crawl, to toddle around, and finally to walk confidently reminded me that writers, too, go through developmental stages. If you and I are willing to learn big things a little at a time–to hone our skills as we write for smaller markets–the time will come when, wonder of wonders, we will take big steps in the direction of our dreams.
Johnnie Ann Gaskill, a former teacher and education director, lives in Thomaston, GA. She enjoys spoiling her three grandchildren; improving her skills as a writer, photographer, and ‘Net surfer; volunteering as a “Pink Lady” at the local hospital; writing features for various publications; leading a weekly Life Makeover study; traveling with her husband; and taking long walks with friends. She’s anticipating the release of her first book, Reflections, at http://www.1stbooks.com), as well as Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul (available from http://www.amazon.com/ or from http://www.tomlagana.com/), since one of her stories is among those chosen from approximately 5000 entries. See Johnnie’s website at: http://eThomaston.net/johnnie