The Secret Lives of Writers – M.J. Ernest
M.J. Ernest lives with his wife and Golden Retriever in Chicago. He’s written pieces that have made it to print, but it’s still on his bucket list to earn the official title of “published author.” His current writing project is a murder mystery novel he feels has the best chance for checking that item off his list. When he wants a change of pace from writing his novel, he works on one of the projects from his writing wish list or adds another article to his blog, The Church Of The Cheese Omelette. You can also find him on Facebook.
I’ve always been a private person—not quick to share my thoughts and quite content to keep to myself. Throughout my life I’ve shared glimpses into my soul with close friends, but the sum of what they’ve learned wouldn’t allow them to construct a picture of who I truly am—a lifelong, closet writer.
My attraction to writing began freshman year of high school when my dad sent me out of state to a boarding school as a first step toward the priesthood. It was more of a misstep. As the token brother of five sisters, I already had too many images of their friends implanted in my adolescent brain to allow the thought of a career emphasizing celibate and single to ever take root. That year did, however, prove valuable nonetheless.
Whenever something touched me deeply, I’d get a sentence looping in my head that wouldn’t stop until I wrote it down. Once I did, the words to the rest of the piece flowed effortlessly and the writing was completed within a short time.
Early in that school year I was befriended by an upper classman named Tom. Tom was a deep philosophical thinker who had a true gift for poetry, and we shared a similar distaste for the monastic lifestyle. Reading his heartfelt poetry inspired me to try emptying my own heart onto paper. The process was wonderfully cathartic and surprisingly easy. Whenever something touched me deeply, I’d get a sentence looping in my head that wouldn’t stop until I wrote it down. Once I did, the words to the rest of the piece flowed effortlessly and the writing was completed within a short time. I only shared these writings with Tom because, after all, this was still high school and a freshman guy writing poetically was a perfect recipe for taunting. Tom’s encouragement was enough to make me want to continue, and at one point I even fantasized about my pieces becoming part of a larger published collection. But when I returned home that summer, the inspiration to write my feelings waned and the pages I had already written got tucked in a folder and buried among my other keepsakes.
Fast forward 15 years.
Distracted by life, loves and making a living, any writing I did was mainly for business like operation manuals, sales presentations, or company newsletters. Every so often a poem would pop into my head, but when finished, it went right into my keepsake folder. There was, however, a personal writing project I wanted to pursue.
Even though I’d abandoned any thought of a religious career, I remained intrigued by the philosophical debates in religion and the little respected New Age spirituality. I read about these subjects and developed a fascination for the phenomenon of “gut feelings”, something I discovered I used regularly to guide my own life. I noticed patterns for how it worked for me and I wanted to share what I knew by writing a user’s manual on the topic. There was one major hurdle I’d have to get beyond if I was going to complete it, though. I’d have to find time in my life that wasn’t already reserved for my wife, my daughter or my full-time job. Fortunately, I was a night owl so I opted to forgo sleep in order to write.
The book progressed slowly and quietly over the years. I shared some of my ideas with people, who all encouraged me to continue. Within the creative process of writing, other book ideas came to me and I made a writing wish list so as not to get distracted.
Jump ahead another 30 years.
By this point I had written the beginning of the user manual, outlined the remainder and put it aside. It was hard to motivate myself to finish writing it when I knew the chances of getting it published might be slim. I shifted my attention to some of the shorter projects on my writing wish list and managed to finish drafts for two of those books. One was a children’s book about a shipwrecked father and son. Another was on public speaking. People who read them enjoyed them, but I just didn’t have the time or motivation to take them further.
I was excited to think I might finally be onto a book that could be published. But I had left the corporate world to start my own business and had less time than before. So rather than working further on my novel, in my spare time I wrote sales proposals.
Around the turn of the century, another book idea popped into my head. It started with a simple question: What if atheists are right and there is no God? I came up with a scenario that quickly morphed into a murder mystery and I excitedly wrote the first 14 chapters. I shared the story with a relative who is a published author, and he said once I finished it he’d be happy to show it to his publisher. I was excited to think I might finally be onto a book that could be published. But I had left the corporate world to start my own business and had less time than before. So rather than working further on my novel, in my spare time I wrote sales proposals. I continued to write the story in my head, and I joined a writer’s group so at least one evening a month I could get editing suggestions for what I had already written. It was frustrating not being able to have time to write because the people I shared the book idea with loved the concept and I knew if I wrote it, I’d have a publisher to look at it. I just literally could not afford to take time away from my work to write.
When the economy got the best of me, I closed my business and turned again to the corporate world for income. Part of me secretly wished my new job would give me more time to finish the novel and continue working on my list of book ideas. But my new position required just as much time as running my own business. More of my friends learned about my novel and read the early draft. All showed excitement for the story line and asked me frequently if I’d written more. Sadly, I just couldn’t.
Recently though, my position in the company changed, giving me an increase in personal time. I pulled out the draft of the novel and started going through it from the beginning, adding ideas I’d gained by writing it mentally throughout the years. My novel was now more mature, the writing more interesting and the story more gripping. I’m about three-fifths of the way done with it and I like how it’s turning out. Others who’ve read it do too. With each encouraging word, my confidence is growing and I’m starting to step out of the closet and admit I’m a writer.
If I can offer any advice to others who share my writing frustrations, it would be to never give up on your writing dreams. If you have a burning passion to write, stay focused and your ideas will get written. Remember, it’s not a race. Writing is an expression of who you are, and that expression will change as you do. It’s possible you are being delayed in writing because your best work will happen once you grow more as a writer. Listen to the positive suggestions from the people in your life because these can help you improve. Don’t lose hope. Just keep writing.
The Secret Live of Writers is a series of blog posts from writers (published or unpublished) who dish the dirt on how they juggle life and art. You can read bout the whys and wherefores here.
The Secret Lives of Writers is now available as an ebook
You can now read all 13 guests posts from Volume 1 in the one convenient ebook. It’s out now in the Amazon Kindle Store and in other stores (iBooks, Kobo, Nook etc.) too.
Full of writing inspiration and advice, if you’re a writer, or an aspiring writer, and this book doesn’t get you putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), nothing will!
You can grab your copy from the Delicious Publishing Book Store.