Are great writers born or created? That’s a question I asked myself 10 years ago as I analyzed my newfound desire to write. I certainly never thought of myself as a born storyteller, nor was I blessed with an overly active imagination.
I wasn’t the kid who made up scary stories to tell her friends around the campfire, or the young woman who wrote sappy romantic tales or poems of teenage angst. I was the girl who loved to read, but who excelled at calculus and physics, and saw herself climbing the corporate ladder.
So what changed?
Autism walked into my life, and suddenly I had to make a choice between pursing my own goals and doing everything in my power to help my son.
Now, making the right choice sounds easy on paper, but it isn’t as easy in real life. I went from holding a well-paid position and working in the heart of New York City to spending my days battling with a non-verbal child who alternated between screaming, crying, and pummeling me with his fists.
Not exactly an environment that breeds creativity, but amazingly, that’s exactly what happened. After about a year of extreme frustration, self-pity, and endless guilt, I suddenly experienced something I’d never felt before—an overwhelming desire to write. I’d been making up stories for a while to battle my anxiety-induced insomnia, and after months of letting the stories stew in my brain, I felt ready to write them down.
I never thought I’d get past the first chapter, but once I started writing, the words began to flow. Characters presented themselves to me, fully formed and full of opinions and maddening impulses. This was strange and unexpected, but also exciting and therapeutic.
The First Novel Is the Messiest
I wrote my first 60,000-word novel in one week. It was unpolished, cheesy, and full of clichés, but I actually finished it, and it felt good. It was the outlet I’d been looking for, and I wasn’t about to stop. I was happier, and a happier mother has happier children.
My burst of creativity inspired me to find new ways to get through to my son, and they proved to be successful. Suddenly, I was no longer a victim of circumstance battling to fight a situation I could never hope to resolve. I was in control, at least to some extent, and I felt more like my old self.
Learning from Experience
I shelved the first book and went to work on a second. I’d never had to plot a story before, but suddenly I was full of ideas, and they were surprisingly fresh—or so I thought.
The second book took a little longer because this time I actually bothered to do research and strive for historical accuracy. I made mistakes—lots of them. I annoyed people who are fanatical history buffs, but the story had merit, and it began to sell once I self-published it with Amazon. I found fans…and critics.
But criticism is not always a negative thing. If it’s constructive, it can be helpful and eye-opening. I now knew what I was doing wrong.
I should have educated myself about the business I was trying to break into and hired a professional editor, but there’s no better education than learning from one’s mistakes.
I received a couple of bad reviews. And then a couple more. People tore me apart, but I didn’t let it deter me because although I’d made some grammatical errors and my facts weren’t always perfectly accurate, most readers liked the premise of the story, and that was encouraging.
Creating an Ecosystem
With all that in mind, I hired an editor, found a cover designer, got a few trusty beta readers, and worked not only to fix my mistakes, but to make my new books better than ever.
Although I worked as a logistics manager for many years, my degree was in marketing and advertising, and for the first time in my life, I was actually implementing the things I’d learned in school. Unlike many newbie authors, I already knew all about getting exposure, defining my market segment, and finding a target audience. I also understood the benefits of offering a taste of what I was selling through free and discounted price promotions. I discovered that I was one step ahead of the herd, and it gave me an edge.
Of course, not all my promotional efforts yielded results. The more books I sold, the more often I was approached by individuals offering their services and promising me the moon and the stars.
I rejected most of them immediately, but there were a few who seemed legitimate and got me interested enough to spend money. I hired an internet publicist, who turned out to be the biggest scam artist on Facebook. Six hundred dollars lost, hardly any books sold—lesson learned. I needed to research who I was dealing with more carefully and proceed with caution.
Self-publishing created many new authors, but it also gave rise to countless scammers who saw an unprecedented opportunity to cheat inexperienced writers desperate for promotional assistance.
I decided that I wasn’t going to pay anyone except legitimate promotional sites like Book Bub, Kindle Nation Daily, and Freebooksy. This decision has worked for me so far. Of course, if a well-known publishing house comes calling, I won’t turn them away!
After getting my marketing legs under me, I set my sights on writing a series. I wasn’t sure I could do it. It was quite an undertaking, but once I saw the characters in my mind and chose an appropriate historical period to set them in, the story took shape. A planned trilogy turned into a six-book series with two accompanying novellas, which garnered fans all over the world. The series is called “The Hands of Time,” but my fans refer to it as HOT, which I love. The characters of The Hands of Time Series are still my favorite imaginary people in the world.
After The Hands of Time, I began The Wonderland Series, which got picked up by a publishing agency before it was even finished and released on audio. I’m currently working on a new trilogy, Echoes from the Past, the first book of which was selected by Kindle Scout to be published by Kindle Press.
Practice Makes Perfect
So, are great writers born or created? There are definitely those people who begin spinning tales as soon as they learn to talk, but there are also those who are shaped by their life experiences and are driven by forces which, given the opportunity, might have destroyed them.
Turning pain into art is the ultimate expression of creativity. So when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
You might discover that it’s time to reinvent yourself and turn adversity into an advantage.
About the Author
Irina Shapiro was born in Moscow, Russia. In 1982, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York. After graduating from Bernard M. Baruch College, Irina first worked in advertising, and then in import/export as a logistics manager. She left her job in 2007 to focus on her autistic son, and began to write. Since then, Irina has written 20 novels.
Irina lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.
For more on what it’s like to be a professional fiction author, read on:
- How I Went from Full-Time Freelance Writer to Self-Published Novelist
- How I Finally Published My First Historical Romance Novel After Forty Years
- Why Indie Publishing is Best For Me, and Advice for New Self-Published Authors