I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Hope Clark speak twice in the past two years and each time I’ve walked away impressed and awed by what this super-smart woman has accomplished. The last time I heard her, only a few weeks ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave the building without asking her to share some of her insights here at Nerdy Chicks Rule. A former Administrative Director of a small federal agency, Hope founded Funds for Writers in 2000, and this information-filled website has been awarded Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers every year since! She can now add author to her list of accomplishments. Hope’s first novel, Lowcountry Bribe debuted in February with Bell Bridge Books. I love that this suspense-filled mystery features a smart and savvy female main character! Congratulations Hope on your successes!
Instead of my usual format, I asked Hope to talk to us today about what it takes for a woman to succeed in the career of her choice.
The Definition of “Successful” Writer
By C. Hope Clark
When people ask how I became a successful writer, I’m always stymied how to respond. I don’t recall becoming successful, and, frankly, I don’t recall when I wasn’t successful as a writer. Fact is, when I decided to write seriously, and pointed the bow of my boat in that direction, I decided that was success . . . the fact I was lucky enough to select a profession that made me happy from the core out.
Having worked for the Federal government for eons, under an immense burden of regulations and rules, I decided to define writing success on my terms. Writing was entrepreneurial, in my eyes. Guess that means I started out as a business person. As a very common sense, left brain individual, degreed in the sciences, I needed steps, order and justification for all I did. In the beginning, that clashed with creativity.
My first mystery draft took two years to write, and it stank. I kept trying to structure it instead of writing with abandon. When agents and publishers refused it right and left, I threw it aside in a box and decided to earn an income writing whatever anybody would let me write, and that was the best decision I could have made – to write anything and everything, and delay the fiction.
Commercial writing, online and in print, was not so different than reports, justifications, releases and congressionals I wrote at the day job. I made a point of writing better than my peers, capturing attention of readers and the powers-that-be. That urge to excel landed me promotions at work, and spilled into my magazine features, book reviews, and online columns at home.
When only one in five households had a computer, I realized that a writer needed an online home base in the form of a website. I deduced my email address needed to announce me, not sound silly, and my professionalism needed to speak on my behalf since I could not meet eye-to-eye with the movers and shakers. I wanted editors and publishers, and one day an agent, to see my name and recognize quality and reliability. I decided I was in this for the name first, the money second.
That was an amazing release, for some reason.
Still, the mystery paralleled my knowledge and love for the country, and I continued to work on it at night. It was my dessert each night. There’s magic and beauty in rural areas that goes unappreciated in mysteries. Noir, cozies and crime fiction prefer the complexity of urbanity. However, as an administrative investigator in agriculture, and having married a federal agent who once specialized in agricultural crime, I sensed a niche in the making. If it didn’t sell, I’d just continue to have fun with it.
FundsforWriters, however, exploded with interest, so my worries about the novel became the last thing on my mind. What started as a platform to hopefully one day use for my novel, morphed into my full-time job. . . and I enjoyed it immensely. One newsletter turned into four. Each time I yearned for the novel, Writer’s Digest selected FundsforWriters.com for its 101 Best Websites for Writers again. 2011 was its eleventh year on the famous list. Head down, climbing a ladder, I enjoyed the growth of FundsforWriters. Maybe this was the writing I was meant to do.
Then a funny thing happened one night when I picked up the novel. I realized that my writing had improved a hundred fold from that old tale, and instead of editing the old novel, I tossed it and started over. Years of writing weekly editorials and innumerable freelance pieces had honed my skills. I dared to join a serious critique group.
It took five years of queries and contract pitches to land the agent, sign with the publisher, and see Lowcountry Bribe come to be. That sounds like a long time in this self-pubbing, quick release environment, but I wanted to be traditionally published . . . a bucket list item. No compromise.
Some have asked how I recognized an unfilled niche for rural mystery. Others have slapped me on the back for standing firm that my protagonist Carolina Slade have children who actually get in the way of her sleuthing, without turning the story into a cozy. And others ask how I recognized the need for FundsforWriters.
Like a classic over-analyzed by a college professor, my efforts were not as calculated as they’d started out to be. Once I did what I felt passionate about, keeping ever focused on making it better, my work improved. Just one foot in front of the other, having fun getting better at what I loved. That simple. No secrets, no magic, no genius revelations.
Grooming ourselves to our truest, most polished form is the best gift we can give not only to ourselves but to the world as well. Success as a writer is what you decide to make of it. When you go to bed mentally tired from rewriting Chapter 12 or wake up with a fantastic hook in mind for a magazine piece, or when you land a freelance gig or hear positive reviews, you know what success feels like. It isn’t a monetary measurement or the number of books sold. It’s living up to a standard you’ve defined as a grand way to live your life.
Thanks so much Hope, for your insights! For more information about Hope, read her bio below and check out her websites.
C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com. The FFW newsletters reach 45,000 readers each week, supplying writer calls for submissions from contests, markets, grants, employers and publishers. Hope is also author of LOWCOUNTRY BRIBE, A Carolina Slade Mystery, publisher Bell Bridge Books, February 2012. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina. www.fundsforwriters.com / www.chopeclark.com