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Turning Points: Guest Post by Eileen Cook

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Eileen Cook reveals how a “nasty” book led her to wanting to be a writer, and how a teacher’s words pushed her toward reaching her dream…

I can remember the exact moment I first decided I wanted to be a writer. When I was about nine I picked up a Stephen King book. I was at the library and added Salem’s Lot to my usual stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books, Nancy Drew, and the latest from Judy Blume. At the checkout the librarian took one look at the book and made a face.

“You don’t want to read this,” she said. “This is a nasty book. Nasty.”

Instantly at that moment my interest in the book went from mild to passionate. Nasty? How delightful. I no longer wanted to read the book; I needed to read it. My mom took the book from me and read the flap. She told me I could read it if I wanted to, but warned me that it would be scary.

I waved off her concern. Pffft. It was just a book. It was all made-up. I was a very mature nine. I understood the concept of make-believe versus reality. I rushed home and dived right into the story.

You can likely guess how this turned out. I slept with the light on for at least two months. I’d lie in bed quivering with dread as I heard vampires slowly lurching down the hallway towards me. I cursed Stephen King.

The strange thing was that I still knew it was made-up. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, what I felt was real. The author had created an imaginary world so vivid that it resulted in real feelings. I wanted to do that. I wanted to create stories that would make people feel. What he had done seemed magical to me, to imagine things and then bring them to life. I started writing my own stories.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I decided that wanting to be a writer was no different than wanting to be a princess, or a superhero. Nice to imagine, but impossible. I focused on getting a “real job.” I still wrote (to be honest, I found I couldn’t stop), but I never took it any further. I went to university, got married, and worked as a counselor. I read all the time and still had fantasies about being a writer, but that’s all they were, fantasies.

Years later my husband encouraged me to take a writing class. The instructor pulled me aside after class one day and told me that my writing was good. She thought I should start sending my work out. Take a shot at publication. I insisted that I couldn’t do that. What if I was rejected? What if people read my writing and decided it wasn’t any good? They would crush my dream. The teacher stared at me for a moment and then said something that became the turning point in my writing and life.

“Eileen, I hate to tell you this, but you’re already not published. The worst thing that is going to happen is that you still won’t be published.”

That was my lightbulb moment. I realized that I might not ever reach my dream of being a published writer. There’s no doubt that publishing is a long shot. However, what I suddenly understood was that if I didn’t at least try, there was no way that my dream could come true.

At that moment I accepted that I couldn’t control if I reached my goal, but I was in control of at least giving myself a shot. I started to take my writing more seriously. I wrote on a regular basis. Instead of reading simply for pleasure, I tried to figure out how the author had written the book. What point of view did they choose? How did they keep my interest? I wrote a book and sent it out. When no one was interested in it, I sat myself down and wrote another. Then I rewrote it again. I sought out feedback and learned to listen instead of argue when someone gave it to me. Eventually my work paid off. I signed with an agent and a few months after that she sold my first book.

Unraveling Isobel

I always wondered how it would feel to hold my book in my hands. The day it was released I went to the bookstore and stared at the shelf. There it was, a real live book with my name on it.

Unraveling Isobel is my eighth book. I thought that if I ever reached this stage it would be easy, but it isn’t. I still have doubts. There are days I’m not sure I can pull off a particular scene, or in some cases, the whole book. Then I remind myself that if I don’t try, then I’ll never know. I can’t control the outcome, but I can control my effort, and that makes all the difference in the world.

—Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in six different languages. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her latest release, Unraveling Isobel, came out this month.

You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

Follow @Eileenwriter on Twitter.

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

And look for open giveaways on the giveaways page so you can win some books! 

Series images by Robert Roxby.

18 thoughts on “Turning Points: Guest Post by Eileen Cook

  1. I love this! Sspecially, “you’re already not published”. What’s the worst that could happen right? Right?! This really struck a chord with me. I decided a year ago to stop being a writer in my head and actually do it. I finally knew that I was willing to try and try again until I got it right. Even if that meant rewriting something ten times. Even if that meant giving up on something that I worked so hard on that wasn’t working and dare to start on something else. I’m willing to do that.
    Also, yay for nasty books!

  2. There is nothing like a post like this to re-affirm the fact that I’ll never realize my dream if I don’t give myself the opportunity to pursue it. I love Eileen’s thoughts on continuing to write even if there are no bites on the first offering. Just write another one. I’m having a light-bulb moment here….

    Thank you!

  3. “…you’re already not published. The worst thing that is going to happen is that you still won’t be published.”

    This is an amazing quote. It’s definitely something to go into my quote file!

  4. So glad to know my lightbulb moment can be shared. I’ll tell my writing teacher (that I still keep in touch with) and let her know her words of wisdom are still working their magic.

    • Very inspirational! I work at Random House children’s and that’s the first time I heard it said like that, about still not being published if you don’t try. You definitely had a great writing teacher!

  5. This is a wonderful, wonderful post. I love the way your instructor phrased her advice. I love your outlook on writing; you don’t know, until you try. And you never lose anything by trying, not really. You learn, always, even when things don’t turn out quite perfectly.

    Really enjoyed this entry.🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  6. What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. You’re absolutely correct. If you don’t try, you can’t succeed. I’ll keep this post in mind whenever I’m having one of those moments of self-doubt.

  7. You would think by now teachers would have learned the “nasty book” trick to get kids to read books they wouldn’t ordinarily read. It’s a great strategy. I know it would have worked on me as a kid.

    Great post, Eileen. I, too, loved your instructor’s words of wisdom.

  8. Truly wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It’s amazing how someone one person says or one book can so drastically change a life for the better.🙂

  9. I had this exact same realization. I was looking for a “real” job, but nothing was working or making me happy. Now I write all the time and hopefully one day I can be like Eileen and say I am a published author. Great turning point! This one truly resonated with me.

  10. Great post, I love your light bulb moment Eileen and I love that Stephen King had you sleeping with the light on. He does that to me at 34, at 9 I’d probably have never slept again😀

  11. Your teacher sounds like a wonderful person, and I’ll be writing that advice down on a sticky note and putting it on my idea board by my desk. I often need a reminder that if you’re taking a new step forward, you can only gain ground. I can’t possibly become anymore un-published than I already am!

  12. As someone who is just beginning to embrace and own the title of Writer, I greatly appreciate reading about your lightbulb moment and the wise and poignant advice from your writing teacher. Thanks so much for sharing and for this inspiring post!

  13. Pingback: “I can’t control the outcome…” « baileyiswriting

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