“One Author’s Writing Path” — A Guest Post by Nann Dunne

Each writer treads upon a writing path unique to him or her. Hearing about others’ steps along that lonesome and sometimes treacherous path can bolster our confidence as we try to push past life’s detours and persist toward our writing goals. Here’s my story. I hope it encourages you.

My fiction writing didn’t begin until I was fifty-eight years old, but the foundation had been built long before that. My two older brothers and I played school at home, and they taught me to read at a fourth-grade level before I started first grade. Once my mother realized I could read, she gave me a real dictionary – not a children’s one – and showed me how to use it. I fell in love with words.

All through grade school, high school, and college, I got high grades on anything I wrote as an assignment, but I didn’t acquire the writing bug. People all along the way would tell me I should write. I became an editor in the advertising and corporate worlds and spent many years editing other people’s work. In fact, I occasionally composed business letters and resumes and even helped with work manuals and organizational bylaws just as favors to my friends. Still, I had no compulsion to attempt creative writing.

When I was forty-two years old, I suffered a stroke that affected my right side. Suddenly my life turned upside down. I had difficulty walking, talking, and manually writing (I’m right-handed). I lost huge gobs of memory. My physical ability to walk and talk improved rather quickly, thank goodness, but in a strange fashion, my words partially deserted me. While speaking, I often had to search for words I knew and couldn’t bring to mind – a recall problem that still plagues me. But in that strange fashion I mentioned, I discovered I could write words with much less difficulty. I’d always been a computer hound, so I switched from editing manually to editing on a word processor and that enabled me to cope with my job. Still, I had no urge to write stories.

Fifteen years later, several factors conjoined. My mother died, my best friend of twenty-five years died, the owner of the company I worked for retired, and I switched jobs. I was overwhelmed with grief and loss. I had difficulty focusing, and I spent a lot of time watching television, something I had rarely done before. But it turned out to be my salvation.

I got caught up in watching the Xena: Warrior Princess show, a somewhat campy but delightfully entertaining show. After I had watched it for about six months, I learned that fans were writing their own stories for the show that they posted online and I began to read them. I read this fanfic, as it was called, off and on for about a year, and one day it occurred to me that it might be fun to write one of those stories. But I hesitated; I had never written fiction. Then I read an interview of one of the writers who was a consummate storyteller. She said writing was easy. Just put the two main characters in a setting and keep on asking “what if.”

So I did that. I wrote and posted three fanfic novellas. To my surprise, I caught the writing bug and churned out six more. Fanfic is a great way to cut your writing teeth. Fans read your stories and give you instant feedback. My fans were very encouraging and kept asking me to write more. I was co-writing and posting a full-length novel with a friend, and a publisher’s agent contacted us and wanted to publish the story. We were ecstatic. The company published that novel and a sequel. Subsequently, I wrote a story by myself and that got published too.

I stopped writing for a while. I decided if I was going to have stories out there with my name on them, I wanted them to be the best-written stories I was capable of. So I diligently perused books and websites on the craft of writing, studied the conventions of fiction writing for three years, and picked the brains of writers I knew and admired. Lori L. Lake helped me so much and so generously, that I still call her my mentor. Then I went back to writing.

I’ve had two more books of fiction published. I re-edited the first three books and they’ve been reissued. I learned so much in those three years of study that three different publishing houses contracted with me to edit their books, and I’ve written a book on editing. I love to help other writers by editing their stories, but it’s terribly time consuming and “steals” from my writing time. So I’ve started cutting back.

For the past eight years, I published an online ezine called Just About Write (JAW), and December’s issue is the last. I’m clearing the deck to free up more writing time. It took a long while for me to become a writer who yearns to write, but it finally did happen. Now when I don’t write, I get antsy.

My writing path has been a long and winding one with plenty of detours, but once I was sure where I wanted to go, I became persistent about working toward my goals. And I will constantly sharpen my tools by learning from teachers like Larry Brooks. That’s an important part of the process.

Stay on your path. Learn. Write. Persist. It has worked for me. I got a late start, but I’m having the time of my life!

 Visit Nann Dunne’s sites:  

www.nanndunne.com for her fiction

www.nanndunnebooks.com for her book on editing

Vote for your favorite writing website HERE.

30 Comments

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30 Responses to “One Author’s Writing Path” — A Guest Post by Nann Dunne

  1. John H

    As a fellow stroke survivor and aspiring author in his 50’s, this gives me great hope. Thanks!

  2. Hang in there, John. Our brains are complex and sometimes contrary, but our minds/spirits can persist and overcome. Good luck with your writing!

  3. Beckie

    I’m so inspired by your story! I have felt like I was the last one invited to the party so many times over the last year. The writing bug bit me last year and I turned 40 in July. So many of my favorite author’s are in their twenties and so is my critique partner. Their insight and style of writing is incredible and I marvel at their talent at such a young age. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life but only just discovering the absolute joy of writing recently. I’m betting on my experiences in life and reading to give me an extra edge. I admire your tenacious study of the craft. I have been studing as well in my quest to be a writer of some value. I’m taking a creative college course and reading writing books (including Larry’s) with quite an appetite. Thank you for sharing your story and letting me know that it’s never too late to join the club 🙂

  4. Hi Beckie,

    At my age, 40 seems young. Your experiences in life and reading DO give you an edge. But don’t compare yourself to other writers. Learn from them and absorb what you like best about their writing. Mix all that together, and you’ll be surprised how it produces your own insights. That’s one of the fun – and somewhat awesome – parts of being an author: writing something of your own that makes you gasp at the pertinence or beauty of it when you reread it. I’ve learned to look forward to those delightfully surprising moments. Go ahead – write, write, write, and you’ll discover what I mean.

  5. Sounds like you spent years building a foundation for a life you never expected. Quite a ride!

  6. Hi Bridget!

    You’re right. No one was more surprised than I. The result has been gratifying. 🙂

  7. Just the type of story I needed to hear lately. Thank you kindly.

  8. Shane, I appreciate your sharing your gratitude. Too often we forget to say thank you to others, and it can mean a lot to each of us.

  9. Nann, great to hear your story. Like you, I am coming to writing late (although not as late as you). But at 45 I wonder if I have missed my opportunity, especially as I study alongside twenty-somethings.
    But, as you show, not too late…
    Congratulations on your success.
    Robert.

  10. Nann, I so enjoyed reading more about your journey. You are so inspiring! I’ve only just begun my writing career, but I can only hope to meet as many helpful people as you have along the way.

    I have your editing book and it is informative in a way that all can understand. I highly recommend it!

  11. @Robert: An attractive woman once told my brother that a man’s not interesting until he’s forty. 🙂 Don’t look back – at 45, you can look ahead to forty+ more years of writing. Go for it!
    @Kissa: If you don’t know anyone personally who can help you, there’s plenty of information online. Thanks for buying Dunne With Editing. I’ve had good reports on it. Keep on writing!

  12. Thanks for sharing. A lot of wonderful writers got started with XWP fan fic, eh? 🙂

  13. Q Kelly: Yes, that stirred up some sleeping tigers. LOL And the writing world is better for it, imo.

  14. Great article Nann, congratulations! Also, congrats on your editing book, Dunne with Editing, . I thought you did a great job with it. Thanks for the help.

  15. I’ve loved writing since I was in third grade, but it wasn’t until sixth grade that I had an English teacher who taught me more in one year than any other instructor has since. It was on to journalism in high school and college. Then a short career as a reporter. I wasn’t published as an author until I was 47, so I understand what you mean about coming to it a little later in life. Somehow, I think it makes it even sweeter. 🙂 As an author and an editor, I can attest to how much your editing book has helped me and how much you’ve personally helped me as my editor. Best of luck, Nann. You’re too talented not to be writing! Thanks for your story.

  16. @Maria and Chris: Thank you both for your encouraging words about how much my book helped you. I don’t think writers ever have too many books on editing. 🙂 I highly recommend Larry’s book on Story Engineering, too. He covers some topics not found in other books.
    @Chris, so glad you lucked into a teacher who woke your talent! I was a bit surprised to find people in their forties and fifties who thought they were “old” writers. Most of the writers I know are in or near that age group, and only a few were published earlier. It’s never too late to start to work on your dream.

  17. Pol

    Thank you, Nann, for sharing your story. I know that you have taught me a lot about the process.

  18. @Pol: Glad to be of help!

  19. Debbie Burke

    Nann,

    Thanks for sharing your fascinating story. Writing is not a competitive sport. We aren’t athletes who peak at age 25 or 30 and go downhill from there. Writers only improve with age. With experience comes wisdom that makes our writing richer and more meaningful.

    Like Chris, I started writing stories in 3rd grade. Like you, TV inspired my first “script,” for the 1960’s series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (submitted in longhand and politely rejected).

    Then earning a living interrupted my creativity, but channeled it into editing business correspondence, legal pleadings, etc., where I learned the nuts and bolts of clear, concise writing. At age 40, I took a community college creative writing course and all the fiction I’d been writing mentally for the past 20+ years poured out on the page. Unlike the stories of my youth, which were technically good, but lacked insight, at this point I possessed the seasoning of life experience. Instead of making superficial observations about characters, now I better understood why and how they did the weird things they did. The next 20 years I devoted to writing, learning from others, honing the craft, and achieving a respectable number of publications.

    Now at age 60, I find my path is taking the flip side of yours, Nann. Instead of writing, I edit others’ stories. To me, helping other writers has become more gratifying and rewarding than writing myself.

    My point (and I do have one) is nothing is wasted. There is no single correct path for writers to follow, no “perfect” age to attain success, no expiration date on improvement and learning.

    Thanks for guest-posting, Nann, and thanks, Larry, for inviting this wise counselor to share with us.

  20. Dillon Watson

    Nann, thanks for the inspiration.

  21. Nann,

    Thank you for your inspirational blog. Writing is tough as it is, let alone with all the obstacles life throws at you and in your case, double and triple doses.

    God Bless and keep on writing, my friend.

    Patty G. Henderson

  22. @Debbie: Well said. Your knowledge of the craft puts your authors in good hands. You and I sound like bookends. 🙂 I continue to edit, but I write as well. I feel as though I’m enjoying the best of two worlds. Thank you for your input and your pertinent words.
    @Dillon: You’re very welcome.
    @Patty: Ah, but those obstacles are fodder for stories, right? Each of my protagonists has a physical or emotional difficulty to overcome. Thank you for your kindness.

  23. Olga Oliver

    Oh, how the above words fill my cup to running over. The words ‘thank you’ do not convey my meaning to you, Nann. A warm beauty flows with your words. I’m probably experiencing the oldest age among all these comments, yet my story is the butter in the whole, rich milk. Is that statement metaphor? Or subtext? Or what? Many thanks to Larry for sending you to us and blessings to you.

  24. Michael J. Chavez

    Your story reflects the courageous path you’ve traveled, and your voice reflects the happiness it’s wrought. I also started writing at 59 when I moved to the high New Mexico Mountains with my partner. The tranquility and natural beauty was my inspiration in discovering what’s become my passion—writing fiction. For too many years my only writing was legal drudgery. Now I’m a free spirit weaving stories about strange places and colorful people and intense situations invented in the nooks of my imagination. Like you, I’m also “having the time of my life.” Thanks for sharing.

  25. Mercedes

    Thank you Nann, for all you do, and the wonderful inspiration that you are. Thank you for providing a forum where young (in writing years, certainly NOT in age, lol) fledgling writers and poets could hone and display their craft.

    Thank you for your wonderful research and references, and for selflessly sharing all of it with the community. Just watching you live and enjoy life and what you are doing is a lesson in perseverance and the wonder of life.
    YOU ROCK!

  26. @Olga: Your words fill me with warmth. Thank you! I thank Larry, too, for allowing me to “meet” so many kind people.
    @Michael: So glad you found your path and are following it. I assume we both have a lot of rich years ahead of us. Enjoy!
    @Mercedes: You rock, too. 🙂 Thank you for your beautiful self.

  27. Nann–
    I love writers’ stories, especially the ones that chronicle “late” starts and the tenacity involved in writing and publishing. Keep up the good work!
    Linda

  28. Sara

    Ms. Dunne,

    I am so glad that I read your post. I never that I would hear an accomplished author say that she read ‘fanfic’. I actually love ‘fanfic’ and I do realize that it is not easy to do. I have read some quality fanfics in the Twilight world that have to with some mature themes like recovery and loss. Thank you very much for my post and your post in “Writing away madly, he made this fatal little mistake.” I had a “clang” moment when I read your post!

  29. @Linda: Remember Grandma Moses? She didn’t start painting until she was in her eighties. Now there’s a true inspiration. 🙂 I’m glad I found my path while I can still enjoy it. Thank you for your comment.
    @Sara: I found that fanfic runs from appalling to outstanding. In fanfic, I discovered one of the best storytellers I’ve ever come across. Don’t be shy about enjoying whatever reading you prefer. We can learn from a wide array of stories. Thank you!

  30. good for you, Sir! …. well done … and good luck to you as well, carry on great work!

    MM