The Writing Life, by Eleanor Shepherd

A few weeks ago, I asked the question “Why did you become a writer?” Well, this week, I am honored to share Eleanor Shepherd’s response to that question:

As writers, we receive encouragement from many different sources. Being raised in a home where I was surrounded by books, nurtured my love of reading.  Before I went to school, I had already learned to read. I loved the sounds of words and the magical way when they were put together they could tell a story.

While reading became a passion while I was still quite young, it was in the sixth grade that the possibility that I might also be able to write began to dawn upon me.  That year we had a teacher who required from us an essay every Friday.  She assigned us a different topic each week.  This first exposure to deadlines, also called forth my creative capacities. The adrenalin pumped as my pen flew across the page hardly able to keep up with the thoughts tumbling over one another that I tried to capture before they fled.  What fueled my passion was the commendation of this teacher who really believed I had some writing ability.

Throughout the rest of my schooling, the curriculum often offered opportunities for creative writing. I enjoyed these and knew that I could anticipate a decent mark for such endeavors.  With the confidence this success engendered, I had no hesitation in signing up for a creative writing course my first year at university.  I still am not quite certain what happened that year, but the professor and I were on entirely different wavelengths.  I learned some valuable lessons about developing journalistic and writing skills, but I barely passed the course and concluded I was not cut out to be a writer after all.  The experience was so devastating that I even doubted by ability to write a research paper, a problem that dogged me for the rest of my university career.

Although I still loved to read, my writing was limited to the prayer journals that I kept. They mostly recorded names and prayer requests.

In my early thirties, I needed to take an elective course to complete my requirements for ministry in our denomination.  I gathered up my courage and enrolled in a journalism course that was being offered by correspondence.  Though I doubted my ability, the desire to write persisted.  I was amazed when each of my lessons was returned with such positive comments and good grades.  Maybe I could write after all.

The clincher came when the editor of the women’s magazine for our denomination came to lead a women’s’ ministry Sunday service for our congregation.  As we visited together over lunch, she asked about my interests; I mentioned the journalism course I was taking.  She asked to see something I had written.  I showed her a couple of articles.  She requested that I send them to her for publication in our denominational women’s magazine.  That was the beginning of my writing for publication and I have not looked back.

I still struggle with my fears.  I write and rewrite and rewrite, and wonder if what I have written will be helpful to anyone; yet, I sense that to write is to exercise a God-given ability.  Currently my book about listening is on its way to publication.  The typeset proofs were sent to me last week, so I could check for errors and get them back to the publisher again by the end of the month.

This past weekend, I attended a conference in Phoenix related to my work.  On the flight west, I began to read over the proofs and mark any corrections needing to be made.   My goal was to finish this task on the flight home.  I really wished someone else could also read it. I feared there were things I would miss since I am so familiar with the manuscript.  I have been working on this project for ten years.

When we boarded the plane in Phoenix, I began chatting with the woman next to me.  She had been in Phoenix to receive her PhD that weekend.  When she saw the manuscript and pencil in my hand, she said, “It looks like you have some work to do.”  I explained what I was doing.

To my surprise, she asked if I would like her help.  She enjoyed doing that kind of thing and would be glad to read it over for me.  I was delighted and handed her the first section of the book.  This included the table of contents, forward, acknowledgments, endorsements and introduction, along with the first chapters.  She began to read and put her markings on the pages.  I figured she would soon tire of this, but I was glad she was willing to help.

When she completed the first section, she handed it back to me and asked for some more.  By this time, she was beginning to ask me the odd question about the book.  She seemed intrigued by some things I say about listening.  I handed her another bunch of pages and thought that I would be fortunate if she was willing to do even that much.  By the time we arrived in Chicago, where we both were changing flights, she had read and marked about sixty pages.  I thanked her and offered her one of my daughter’s CDs as a token of my gratitude.

Our connecting flights to Montreal and Syracuse were leaving from adjoining gates at O’Hare airport.  Instead of taking the shuttle, between terminals we walked together and chatted about the book.  When we got to my gate, we still had about an hour and a half before our flights.  My new friend sat down beside me and offered to proofread the next section of the book.   Her interest in the book affirmed for me it is now ready to touch the lives of people in the way that the Lord intends.  That is why I write.

You can find Eleanor online at her blog: Eleanor Shepherd

*Please note that Eleanor’s post was originally posted at Canadian Writers Who Are Christian on March 27th, 2010.

This is the first of two guest posts by Eleanor Shepherd. Check back in next Friday to read what she has to say about marketing our writing.

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