A Writing Epiphany

One of my favourite quotations on describing the writing process is by E. L. Doctorow: “It’s like driving a car at night,” he says. “You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

This approach has worked well for me: know my destination, put my head down, and don’t look too far ahead.

But it’s also been rather short sighted.

As I work with my agent Jill to sell my manuscript, I’ve been fairly preoccupied with selling this one book. I’ve been writing, rewriting, tweaking and dreaming. I’ve become so focused on this book that I forgot something – or perhaps I’d never realized it.

I’m a writer. I’m not a one-book woman.

This epiphany came about due to two events.

I met with Jill over the holidays in San Diego. I shared with her some of my other book ideas. In other words, I looked beyond the headlights, to other possible destinations. She was supportive and enthusiastic. She told me I was a career writer.

Like every other good tidbit I hear, I filed that piece of information under “Nearly Irretrievable.”

Fast forward to last Monday. I’m absorbing feedback from publishers as well as my Canadian agent who’s handling pitching to editors in Toronto.

Cue the light bulb.

I’m a career writer. Whatever happens or doesn’t happen to Get That Train off Your Penis, there will be another manuscript, another destination.

This is not a phase, I am not a one-book woman, I am a career writer.

This is not my only trip.


Have you ever had a writing epiphany?

We’d love to hear about it.

About Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom)

Leanne Shirtliffe (a.k.a. Ironic Mom) is a humor writer who lives by the motto, "If you can't laugh at yourself, laugh at your kids." She is the author of DON'T LICK THE MINIVAN: Things I Never Thought I'd Say To My Kids, the picture book THE CHANGE YOUR NAME STORE (May 2014), and MOMMYFESTO: We Solemnly Swear...Because We Have Kids (Nov 2014).
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27 Responses to A Writing Epiphany

  1. sportsjim81 says:

    I think mine came the moment my blog went live. It was like finding something you lost years ago and completely forgot about, and then realizing how much you loved it back then. That was over a year ago and now I find myself thinking about writing all the time. I keep plugging away at the blog and trying to get my work out there in hopes that eventually I’ll get something published, be it a short story, blog post, whatever, and have a credential under my belt. I’m having a hard time calling myself a writer even though I know that’s what I want to be. I think when that day comes, it will be my next epiphany.

  2. thundergoes says:

    Haha, I know how you feel! I do the headlights/blinders thing too, but sometimes it’s so refreshing to put down one project and work on another. Nice post!

  3. Elena Aitken says:

    you ARE a career writer!! Can’t wait to see what else is brewing in that brain of yours. :)

  4. pig01 says:

    Having never been to college, and a person with poor grades in English class, I must be insane to try and write a book. But here I am going for it. I see your point all to clear. I do my best to take it one step at a time. I blog for experience and to promote the upcoming book. I must say, this is the best time of my life. Will i make it happen? I don’t know. Will i be successful? I don’t know. Life should be spent going for everything you can possibly do. In the end you should arrive sliding around the corner, beer in one hand and chocolate in the other yelling whoa hoo, what a ride!

    • As an English teacher, I know my own English education taught me almost nothing about being a writer. You will be successful if you go after it, like you said.

      And I”m all for the beer and chocolate!

  5. I definitely get the ‘career writer’ outlook. And I’m very careful to keep my options open as I develop any one project.

    I was actually told about one successful gentleman’s system for ensuring he never would be without work: Five projects at a time. One that’s making your money right now, two that you’re developing, but aren’t in a position to make money quite yet, then two more that are long term and you’re just laying the ground work for. Whenever one project ends, for whatever reason, you slide projects down to fill the holes, and make new ones up to fill the now vacant ‘long term’.

    It was a cool idea.

  6. Lesann says:

    I thought I’d write one novel and feel good about the idea, and be ready to move along to something else. That hasn’t happened. I’ve always enjoyed writing, incorporated a lot of it into my work, but the fiction-writing-for-pleasure was something I didn’t think about seriously until a year and a half ago. Hobbies come and go, interests peak and ebb, but the writing urge just builds. One didn’t do fulfill the drive, neither did two, or three, or four, or five…neither did twelve. So? Am I writer? I must be ’cause I keep pushing the words out.

  7. I’m firmly of the opinion that if you write, you’re a writer. Published, unpublished, who cares? In a way, if you’re persevering without publication that qualifies you even more – who could be more of a writer than the person who is driven to write, even though they get no financial reward for it? It’s the passion and the pleasure of putting words down on paper that makes the writer.

  8. kimbervale says:

    Similar to another poster, I have found that a rejection or acceptance email means it is time to get another piece out there. I like knowing I have four or five shorts in various slush piles, while I try to find time most days to work on my longer WIPs in some capacity. It’s like the lotto–ya gotta be in it to win it.

  9. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes says:

    Love this attitude. It’s just a fact. An awesome one.

  10. Marianne says:

    How exciting! My writing epiphany came when I realized I need to write to actually finish a story. I need to write… Can’t wait to learn about new ideas!

  11. David says:

    That’s a fantastic quote about the writing process! I think being a walker and not a driver has helped me avoid this pitfall of writing though.

    When driving you only have the headlights to guide you, but when walking you’re allowed to move forwards while being distracted. In this way I am able to make my way towards my goal, while stopping to view some unique visions. To take metaphor to practicality, while working on a novel I still find time to start poetry or short stories, edit works that have been sitting around, and still slowly but surely make my way towards the final destination.

    Of course, if you’re relying on your writing as you sole source of income this is probably not the best way of progressing forward. But there’s a reason you only walk to and from places if it’s either a short distance or you have time to walk 10 miles.

    • I miss walking. I do. In college I walked everywhere. When I lived in Bangkok, I walked everywhere. Now? Rarely. Hmm. Maybe when it stops being -40, I will begin walking. Love that metaphor, David!

  12. Eden Mabee says:

    And what an epiphany to have! Glad it came to you when you had a good opportunity to act on it.

    And I’m going to take away from this the impetus to actually be that one book writer…and the two book writer..and… ;-)

  13. Pingback: The Road to Success Part Two–Understanding the Why Behind the Buy « Kristen Lamb's Blog

  14. I think my epiphany came when I realized I wanted to self-publish, which was around October of last year. When I realized that’s what I wanted to do, and I realized I could, in fact DO it, I finally realized, “Wow. I’m a writer! That’s really what I am, no matter what my day job is or whether or not I can ever give that day job up. I. Am. A. Writer.”

    What a great feeling!

  15. azureboone says:

    I think my biggest epiphany with writing was that there was a “world” for it. Where a particular genre of people existed and that only other Writers could or wanted to go. Not even readers can understand, ONLY Writers know that intimacy you get with a story. So, this epiphany of “you’re on your own chic” sort of HIT me one day when I realized there was NOBODY in the real world that “GOT” me. But it’s not like they really could, you know? We’re in WRITER LAND. The land where people who can’t shut off their alternate lives live. Where we can talk Writer jargon and people aren’t smiling smiles that never ever reach their eyes. I think that epiphany was the hardest one. And at the same time a crazy amazing epiphany.

    Sigh. We’re a secret organization aren’t we. We need t-shirts and mugs to carry our cryptic messages. Things that only other Writers will “get” Stuff like: “How’s Your Plot hanging?”

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