Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A First Success

First Success
By Dawn Goldsmith

I spring from a long line of farm wives. Pie baking rather than language or communication served as the measure of a woman's worth in my family. When I felt the tug to do something less domestic, less traditional, support and encouragement evaporated.

"You want to be a writer? What a cute hobby. I think the woman down the street writes poems for her children's birthdays."

I wrote in secret.

I subscribed to Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines, bought a copy of the Writer's Market, studied and read how-to book as well as novels, nonfiction, road signs and cereal boxes. But I was still a housewife wanting to be a writer.

One moment, like Cinderella dreaming of dancing at the ball, I set aside my scrub brush and pretended I was a writer.

The news announcer on the radio told of a local group of musicians who had won a national contest. I had heard of the Blanchard Valley Bluegrass Boys, but that was the extent of my bluegrass knowledge. Bill Monroe? Mandolin? Riffs? "Foggy Mountain Breakdown?" I had no clue about these things.

Without waiting to talk myself out of it, I picked up the phone, called the radio station and said, "I'm a freelance writer and I'd like to contact the Bluegrass Boys for an interview."

He didn't laugh and say, "I know you, you're that housewife…"

Instead, he said, "Give me your number, I'll pass it along to their agent."

Just in case anyone returned my call, I needed to figure out what bluegrass music really was. I went to the library and also searched the Writer's Market for an appropriate market. I found Bluegrass Unlimited magazine and sent for a sample copy.

My internal voice, the one that tells me 'you're a housewife, quit wasting your time, go bake a pie,' convinced me that I was on a fool's errand. Yet, when I picked up the phone and heard the group's agent, I realized that even if no one else took me seriously (not even me), he did.

Not wanting to misrepresent myself, I explained that I was freelance writer, wasn't familiar with the boys' work, but wanted to write about them and their success for Bluegrass Unlimited.

He, being a group member's father doubling as an agent, just heard "Bluegrass Unlimited." Unknown to me, this magazine was the bible of Bluegrass. Before I knew it, we'd arranged to meet at one of their local performances and he sent me two of their albums.

I walked into the overcrowded bar and was turned away until I explained that I had been invited. Within minutes they pushed the people at the tables closest to the stage back and inserted another table -- just for me. I sat at ring side; the musicians gathered around my table at intermission. Afterwards we talked in the parking lot with my trusty tape recorder running. They invited me to their agent's home for a more quiet interview and all of the time I marveled that they, these national contest winners who had just come off of an international tour, accepted me as a professional writer.

I almost believed them.

I struggled with that article, wrote, rewrote and wrote some more. Thankfully the editors of Bluegrass Unlimited overlooked my beginner's mistakes. They published it. And they paid me.

That $125 check was my touchstone; my baptismal certificate into the writing sisterhood.

Because that agent believed, I had the confidence to continue writing. Eventually I approached the area newspaper and convinced them, with a few clips and a lot of chutzpah, that I could write for them.

Writing takes knowing your craft, long hours of pre-writing, first drafts and a gazillion rewrites. It takes thought, research and perception. But most of all, it takes believing in yourself. And sometimes to reach that point of belief, you must pretend, or find someone who sees past the apron to the writer within.

Dawn Goldsmith has gone on to have numerous essays and articles published, and her work has appeared regularly in the Christian Science Monitor. She is a long-time member of The Internet Writing Workshop. This article is a reprint from WritersWeekly.


Gary said...

I fell into writing in an almost similar way, but my first success wasn't in such a prestigious a magazine. I got ants in my pants after being asked to do a bit of research and write (for free) a historical feature for our small town newspaper. It felt ... ego-reinforcing to see that byline, though.

I took the same information and sold a piece on the same subject (boomtown lead and zinc mining) to THE OZARK MOUNTAINEER, a regional pub which paid me $65, as I recall. I was shocked when I opened the envelope accepting the piece. I later used that same research to sell an article to ROCK & GEM a national pub.

Then I joined the IWW and found out I'd really rather write essays than articles.

But that's another story.

Carter said...

And in this article Dawn demonstrates that the agent who took her seriously was one smart man--it's a great article, one every hopeful should read.

I'll bet you can still bake a terrific pie, Dawn. But you're probably an even better writer. :-)


Bob Sanchez said...

Dawn, you deserve tremendous credit for what you have not only attempted but achieved. This is an excellent article that I hope will inspire many women to test their talents.

Ruth D~ said...

Not only did you follow your gut, but you acted the part of a writer until it became real. Lots of lessons here. Great story.

I'd love to see the Bluegrass story that inspired this one, Dawn.


Anonymous said...

I too would love to read the first article Dawn wrote. She has been one of my favorite writers and I am just waiting for the day she writes a book. Good going Miss Dawn. MJ

Dawn said...

To those of you who mentioned wanting to read the Bluegrass article -- let me warn you -- no, you wouldn't. :) It was awful. Everything a newby could do wrong. Plus, it may be lost forever (we can hope) because it was written (and rewritten) on an old electric typewriter in 1981. I would need to dig through some boxes to find any copies. If I run across any, I'll be sure to let you know.

Thanks for your interest and response to my First Success.

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