Claire McEwen, hopeful romantic.

Finding the Courage to Try

This post originally appeared on the Pink Heart Society on Wednesday, February 26th.

Like so many people, I’d dreamed of writing a novel since I was a child, but never thought I was creative enough to write fiction. Then, when I was in my thirties, my father and my stepsister both died unexpectedly. Those tragedies taught me that life is very short and I’d better get busy pursuing my dreams.

I sat down at my computer and wrote the first scene that came into my head. I could see my heroine so clearly, standing in her office, well dressed, kind of prim. Then my hero showed up. He was the last person she’d choose – all full of cowboy swagger! And that’s when I fell in love with writing. It was so fun to open the door to my imagination and see what was there. And that first scene became A Ranch to Keep, my debut Harlequin Superromance, out this month.

I almost didn’t become a writer, though. I was so paralyzed by self-doubt that A Ranch to Keep almost didn’t get written. It took me ten years of wrestling with my fears to make it happen!

In the beginning, I knew I had a lot to learn, so I joined Romance Writers of America. But I felt very intimidated at chapter meetings. Everyone seemed so confident and knowledgeable! Then I attended my first RWA conference and heard in workshops and conversations that the western novel was dead. No one wanted to read about cowboys anymore.

That’s when I let my doubts take over. If all I could think of was a book about a cowboy, and cowboys had been done to death, then obviously I didn’t have the imagination and talent it took to become a writer. I gave up and put my book away.
But I couldn’t forget my characters. I’d left them frozen in time, partway through their story. They were so real to me that it seemed unfair to abandon them. A few years later, when I’d left my busy career to become a full-time mom, I started dreaming of writing again. I had to dig through many dusty boxes in the garage to find my manuscript. When I pulled it out, my husband read a few pages over my shoulder and said, “This is good – you should be a writer!”

And from then on, my husband became my cheering section. Every time my self-doubt would start to overwhelm me, he would gently and firmly kick it to the curb. A year later, in the fall of 2012, I had just enough confidence to enter my first chapter into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest.
I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t place in the contest, but when I got an e-mail from Karen Reid, associate editor at Superromance, requesting my full manuscript, I was amazed! I called my husband to tell him the news, but all that came out was a garbled squeak. Apparently I squeaked at him for about five minutes before he could finally figure out what I was talking about!

I spent a week frantically revising my draft, sent it in, and waited. About a month later, I received a very encouraging letter from Karen, with all kinds of suggestions for revising the story. I worked for a month to incorporate her ideas, sent the manuscript back to her and waited some more.

I tried my best to be patient and trust that I’d be okay whether she said yes or no. But I’m terrible at that! I worried non-stop. Three months later, I sent a note asking if there was any progress. Karen responded promptly, saying that after a meeting with her senior editor later in the week, she could let me know their thoughts.

Of course, that was the week I had almost no cell phone reception! We were on a family vacation out in Anza Borrego, a desert preserve in Southern California. It’s lovely there, but also very remote! What if I missed the call? I tried to enjoy the scenery and the family time, but I couldn’t help checking my phone whenever I could get a signal.

We were packing our car for the drive home when my phone rang. I’d left it in the front seat and my husband and I almost collided when we both dove for it. It was Karen saying the most miraculous words – she wanted to offer me a contract for my book!

I turned and gave my husband the thumbs up and he launched himself into the air, fist to the sky. When he landed, our little son said, “Daddy, I didn’t know you could jump so high!” and I almost burst out laughing. They both jumped all over the dusty parking lot, cheering, while I tried to have a rational phone conversation. But I don’t think I was very rational. All I remember is that I said “thank you” at least a thousand times!

As Karen explained what would happen next, I walked away from my jumping family and looked out over the desert landscape. The cactus growing in the rocky soil around me, and the rugged hills in the distance were a gorgeous backdrop for such a miraculous moment in my life. And I thought Wow. Dreams really do come true sometimes.

My journey to publication makes me wonder how many people never find the things they are passionate about because, like me, they lack the confidence to try.
Do you have dreams you’ve been putting on hold? Is there something new that you are waiting to try? Would you consider trying it today?

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