Today kicks off my Author’s Open House, a whole month of Christian authors stopping by to share some thoughts on writing, reading, books, and so much more. See the full line-up here.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome Rachel McMillan to the open house. I was first “introduced” to Rachel through her novella, A Singular and Whimsical Problem, the inaugural title in her now celebrated Herringford and Watts series set in 1910 Toronto and telling tales of two Shirlock Holmesian young women detectives. Read my review of A Singular and Whimsical Problem here. Her books are brilliant, funny, and a fast-paced chases through mystery, intrigue, and even a little romance. More than her writing, Rachel is so fun to follow on social media, giving her followers glimpses into her obsession with history as she researches and explores. (Links below.)
Please help me welcome Rachel to the Authors’ Open House! Grab your coffee or tea, find a comfy seat, and let’s see what Rachel has to say…
Am I a real writer?
A question I have asked myself since 5th grade.
In 5th grade I wrote my first novel. I use the term “novel” loosely, because I am not sure how long it was and it was interspersed by my rather lacking artistic talent when I took it upon myself to illustrate it. It was written on scrap paper and starred a beautiful trapped kitchen maid and her anthropomorphic mouse, Burly. It was set in Switzerland in all of these made up places with castles and villages with thatch-roofed houses and taverns and horses and lanterns swinging in the night. I do believe I attributed medieval characteristics to 19th Century Europe. My heroine was torn between two men: the evil prince and his benevolent twin. The benevolent twin won her heart. Clearly it was going to be a movie and Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant would write a song to be sung over the credits and the aligning music video would have a lot of trains. And wind machines.
When a classmate asked to read it, I thought I had made the big time. Maybe the librarian would want a personal copy for the library.
I took such care with this book that when I had finished the draft of several one-page chapters, I asked my mom to take me to the store where I could buy a nice blank-paged hardcover book and therein I copied it out in perfect handwriting.
For a moment, I thought I was a real writer.
I think many people have the same experience: the first moment if you wonder if you are a writer. Thereafter, the subsequent doubts. We set up several steps for validation often inspired by our own subjective rubrics.
When am I a real writer?
Is it when I can earn enough (HA!) from my written word to quit my day job?
Is it when I am endorsed by a famous author?
For most of my life, I was too scared to show anyone my writing; but I loved it as a hobby so I decided I must have been a real writer when I finished my first novel (which will never see the light of day) or the second novel (that will never see the light of day, either) or the third or the fourth.
Then, when I grabbed at a moment of courage, queried an agent and was signed on I thought I must be a real writer, now! Because I am legitimately represented by someone who believes my work is saleable.
When I went to my first writing conference and met with editors, I thought “this is it. YOU ARE A REAL WRITER! You are networking with publishing professionals! This is what real writers do.”
When that first manuscript was rejected at every publishing house, I thought “now, NOW, I am a writer. A writer is someone who puts themselves on the line and is rejected.”
While that manuscript was on submission, I listened to my agent (like a real writer would) and wrote something else, crafting a proposal for a completely different series. When I received my first offer from a publisher on that series, I thought for sure I would think I had actually made it. That then finally I was a real writer.
I thought for sure…I thought for sure my years of doubts and insecurities would vanish with each subsequent doubt.
Spoiler alert: they don’t.
Will I ever get back to straight historical fiction? What about the finished manuscript that everyone passed on? Am I only a real writer if I can find a publishing home for the files full of non-published manuscripts?
What about reviews? Am I only a real writer if I get x number of great reviews on Goodreads or Amazon?
The doubt doesn’t go away. You keep setting new metrics. Reviews, sales, exposure, subsequent contracts. I don’t know if I will ever feel I have “made” it. But, that’s okay. Few authors or creative types ever feel confident in their work. Indeed, I use this self-consciousness to my advantage: trying to be more, learn more, read more.
I think the one piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants to try and see if their words on paper can make it out into the unknown is that it’s better to take things piece by piece rather than the entire world as a whole. Success can be showing someone your fiction for the first time, joining a critique group, registering for a conference, learning about query letters and finally finding one, researching indie publishing and trying your hand at it.
I just try to convince myself that copying that Switzerland fairy-tale: mouse illustrations and all into a little book is as real as I was likely to get in my writing journey.
I put my soul and my craftsmanship into that. Whatever you write, write well. Write for yourself and for others. Write things you don’t intend anyone to see. Write what you know and what you don’t.
Are you a real writer? I don’t think there is one absolute rubric. But I do know that there are instances of validation and success to match the moments of jitters and weakness. And it is in those moments that you have proved yourself ready for the course.
About Rachel McMillan
Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.
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Keep up with Rachel in a few fun ways:
Are You Attending the ACFW Conference?
If so, be sure and hop over to the ACFW Blog today where I’ll be guest posting about something FREE I’m giving away to every single attendee at the conference coming up in just two short weeks! (There may be two posts going up today, so if mine isn’t up yet when you visit, be sure and check back.) Thanks for reading!
Authors’ Open House Welcomes Rachel McMillan,
talking about what makes a real writer. — TWEET THIS!
9 thoughts on “Authors’ Open House: Rachel McMillan”
Thank you for sharing this Rachel. I struggle with not feeling like a “real writer” daily. I have to remember to take this journey in pieces (like you said) and celebrate the little successes.
I’m with you, Stephanie! Sometimes the littlest success (like writing a new scene) is worth celebrating!
Rachel, your sweet, personal story brought back memories of my first “real” attempt at writing. I was in Jr. High. My story was about a middle grade girl who worked in a pet shop owned my a grumpy old man. She secretly discovers the resident parrot can actually carry on a conversation.
I kept this story for years and still wish I could find it.