Going from PhD student in neurophysiology to writer involved drastic changes, hard decisions and a long-term plan. As a first step, I informed my department and major advisor that I was cutting bait, getting my master’s degree and leaving the program. This was especially painful because I’d already completed all the coursework for a PhD. Still, I saw no point in suffering (and believe me, I was seriously unhappy) through more research to obtain a degree I’d never use.
I started applying for jobs that would both teach me to write and give me the freedom to write. At first, no one would hire me as a writer because I had no credentials. But one editor in a university department took pity on me. When I called to ask why I hadn’t gotten the job, he told me exactly why. Then he offered me a part-time position and tutored me. I took classes at the university—beginning composition and with visiting writers. I found a full-time job as an editor/writer with a petroleum group.
In one of the evening classes, a semester-long workshop with a visiting writer, I wrote my first essays. The workshop was “Essays on Self and Place,” taught by Donald Snow, then editor of Northern Lights Magazine. I’m sometimes asked why I started out writing essays. Partly that was a natural voice for me. Largely because of this class.
In this workshop, both from Don and from my fellow students, I learned the craft of writing. I learned economy of phrase and how to weave in emotion and description. By the end of the semester, several of my classmates invited me to join a writing group. They met weekly and exchanged critique.
I was thrilled.
I rearranged yet more things so I could attend their meetings. I learned, both from finding ways to read their work and give useful feedback and from their reactions to what I wrote. Most importantly, I got better about actually writing.
See, the thing is, there’s this huge leap between deciding to be a writer and actually writing. Why this is, I don’t really know. But I spent a lot of days, weeks and months not putting words on the page. Sure, for a class with a writing assignment deadline, I produced work. On my own, with no external expectation? Not so much.
With this writing group, which became the Silver Sage Writing Alliance, a group we eventually capped at twelve people, I had a deadline every twelve weeks. Each week was someone’s turn. We distributed the piece for critique—usually an essay, which most of us wrote—the week before. Everyone read and critiqued it during the week. Then we met and spent a couple of hours going through it.
Those were golden years for me, the time I spent with the Silver Sages. Of the original twelve, half of us ended up with published books and three more published in various literary magazines.
I can’t emphasize enough how much this group meant to my growth as a writer.
Tomorrow: Jeffe Kennedy Day 3 - First publication to first book
Jeffe Kennedy took the crooked road to writing, stopping off at neurobiology, religious studies and environmental consulting before her creative writing began appearing in places like Redbook, Puerto del Sol, Wyoming Wildlife, Under the Sun and Aeon. An erotic novella, Petals and Thorns, came out under her pen name of Jennifer Paris in 2010, heralding yet another branch of her path, into erotica and romantic fantasy fiction. Since then, an erotic short, Feeding the Vampire, and another erotic novella, Sapphire, have hit the shelves. Her contemporary fantasy novel, Rogue’s Pawn, book one in A Covenant of Thorns, will be published in July, 2012. Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and frequently serves as a guinea pig for an acupuncturist-in-training.