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Jodi Thomas | Advice About Beginning to Write


On the month that my 30th novel comes out I’d like to talk about dealing with being gifted.

Over the years, when beginning writers come to me and say, "Do I have what it takes to be a writer? Am I gifted?" I always remember the night I followed my writing teacher out of class. I’d just read my first chapter of my first novel. Handwritten on yellow legal paper. I knew nothing of plotting, viewpoint, characterization or even manuscript format. I’d just signed up for a community class at the college and had dreams of hitting within months.

While we walked to her car, I asked her one question after another. I’m sure she was wondering if I could be some kind of writer/stalker by the time we reached her car. With the door open, I blurted out my last question. "Do you think I can be a writer? I mean a real writer."

She smiled (or at least I think she did for we were standing on a dark parking lot) and said, "If you work really, really hard you’ll make it."

I danced back to my car thinking my writing teacher had seen something in me that meant I had what it takes to make it big. I was gifted. I followed her advice. I learned to type and use a computer. I wrote an hour or two a day. I read all the books on writing. I joined a critique group. I tried to learn to spell.

I pulled small amounts of time out of my day and tried to learn one thing each day. And at night, I dreamed of autographing. (I also dreamed of being thin, but that never worked) But, I was sure writing would. After all, my teacher believed I could do it.

Months passed. Nothing

I didn’t see failure. I only decided I wasn’t working hard enough. I doubled my efforts. I worked three hours a day. I took my lunch so I could work during lunch and breaks. I subscribed to writer’s magazines and went to the library each month to read the ones I couldn’t afford. I entered contest. I tried harder to learn to spell. Nothing.

I still didn’t see failure. (I did however lower my goal from making a million to being able to make enough to pay postage and fees on all the contests I entered.) I could still hear my teacher’s advice, "If you work really, really hard."

I pushed writing time into hours I should have been sleeping. I entered more contest. I scraped together enough money to attend two conferences a year. I rewrote so many times I wanted to kill most of my characters. I wrote openings to book after book trying to develop hooks. I read in the fields I was trying to break into. I bought used books by the big names and outlined them. I tried to learn to spell.

Finally, the money began to come in. Ten dollars for a short article. Five for a poem. Twenty for third place.

I pushed harder, using my newfound wealth to prim the pump. I bought more books on writing. I attended more conferences. I asked so many questions I’m surprised they didn’t ban me from attending. I drove miles to take writers to lunch so I could find out how they did it.

But, most of all I worked really, really hard. One day in the teacher’s lounge when I was sleeping between classes, someone asked me, "Jodi, you’re killing yourself. What are you trying to do?" I wanted to say, "I’m gifted. My talent's gold, but no one knows and if I don’t mine it, no one will ever know. Mining is hard work, so I’ve got to work really, really hard."

I didn’t listen when people kindly told me I was wasting my time. I did give up on spelling however and decided to just trust spell check.

Then, one day, it happened. After years of study and work I sold a book. In fact, I sold five in fifteen months and from then on I sold as fast as I could write.

Now, twenty years and 30 books later I’ve been on the New York Times and USAToday’s lists. I’ve won three RITA’s and am a member of RWA’s hall of fame. The walls of my office on the university where I am writer-in-residence are lined with awards and my book covers.

It surprises me sometimes when people come to visit and say, "Oh, you’re so lucky to be gifted. I wish I had such a talent."

They have no idea. I’m not gifted at all, or lucky. I stumbled hundreds of times. For every award there are a dozen contests where I didn’t place. For every book that sees daylight, there are at least four drafts still hiding in the dark.

"So, what’s the secret?" the young writers ask as they follow me out of a lecture. "Do I have what it takes to be a writer?"

All I can say is an echo that ran through my brain for years when I was trying. "If you work really, really hard you can be a writer."

As the second in my HARMONY SERIES comes out I believe SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY is one of the best books I’ve written. I enjoyed writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Jodi Thomas




10 comments posted.

Re: Jodi Thomas | Advice About Beginning to Write

Jodi -

Your attitude about writing is the same as all of us should approach life and I learned this lesson from my youngest son.

When he was 5 he had to get a full leg brace but it never kept him down - he just kept trying and succeeding. With the brace he managed to climb trees, play little league and soccer and participate in a regular gym class and only took it off to swim or take a bath. He even had to wear it with it's attached shoe to bed. He finally got it off in the 5th grade.

I'm proud of the fact that in high school he ended up wrestling, fencing and even playing football (okay mostly sitting on the bench)and went on to going to and getting an engineering degree from The Citadel!

It's amazing the strength you can learn from a child.
(Jeanne Miro 11:52am November 16, 2010)

I have been hearing a lot about this book, would love to read it.
(Gail Hurt 5:07pm November 16, 2010)

Hard work has it's rewards. You achieved your goals and have many readers great books to enjoy.
(Rosemary Krejsa 8:02pm November 16, 2010)


You were the first author I had the pleasure of meeting and the experience left me speechless (quite a feat, let me tell you). You were in town autographing "Rewriting Monday". The second time I had the pleasure of seeing you, you were autographing "Welcome to Harmony" and I told you what a special treat it had been to meet you the first time. You said "Oh Jill, I'm just a human being". Well, to us readers, you are magical. As you've indicated it took you quite a while to "whip out" that first best seller, but we are so glad that you knew you'd make it "if you tried really, really hard". Weaving your words together is a gift that not everyone has and thank you so much for letting us share them.
(Jill Hayden 8:11pm November 16, 2010)

I think its wonderful how we as human beings can over come so much in life if we just set our minds to it. You are an example for us all.
(Vickie Hightower 10:15pm November 16, 2010)

You are gifted more than you realize. Not only have you written so many books and won several awards, but you had the guts to be so honest with us about all the hard knocks you took to get where you are. Many writers would have hung up their pens and have gone on to do other things, while you persevered. I, on the other hand, have a book inside of me, but don't have the guts to put pen to paper. Thank you for such an insightful article. It meant such a great deal to me, and just might give me that boost of inspiration!!
(Peggy Roberson 10:23pm November 16, 2010)

I can only imagine how hard you must work to write & write well. Bravo!!
(Mary Preston 2:08am November 17, 2010)

Thank you so much for the insight into a writers' world. Thank you also for not giving up. I love your books.
(Robin McKay 10:20am November 17, 2010)

Dear Jodi,
I just finished Somewhere Along the Way and can't wait for the next installment from Harmony. You've again written a story that keeps my turning the pages and hoping that I don't come to the end.
(Maude Allen 5:31pm November 17, 2010)

Talent can appear with practice and perseverance. We all can write, but not everybody makes a cohesive story with all three parts - beginning, middle and an end. I think that's why I like mysteries, since the ending can be left up in the air.
(Alyson Widen 6:37pm November 19, 2010)

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