by Beatrice Sheftel
"What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" Langston Hughes
Beatrice Sheftel shares how she is living her life long dream.
I had just turned 50. I was working at the local community college. My writing life consisted of op-ed essays for the Hartford Courant, and news releases as part of my job.
My contract was coming up for renewal when my husband said, "Why don't you stay home and write? It's what you've wanted ever since I've known you." He added, "If not now, when?"
My job at the college was part-time and paid well per hour but was seasonal and not secure. Every semester I had to go through the interview process all over again as this was one of those positions radvertised on a semester basis. It was frustrating to me that I had no security.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
He nodded in agreement.
We started dating when I was a teenager in college. I was 19 and he was twenty. He'd been impressed then with my publications in literary magazines. He'd always encouraged my efforts.
I remembered when we moved to Connecticut and I was pregnant with our son. I sat at an old manual business typewriter writing stories for Christian magazines and take-home papers. It was a thrill every time I was accepted. My husband always told people how proud he was of me and my writing. And yet, through the years I had to put my writing aside to take on various jobs, and help with living expenses.
It was hard to find time to write when I had a baby to care for, and a full-time job working in recreation for the town. Even so, I found an outlet by writing about the recreation programs for the local newspaper. Several of my articles were published as features in magazines.
Years upon years went by with me writing in between everything else. My work was published in small presses, literary magazines, and the local newspaper. Most of the time I earned very little from my writing. Occasionally I'd win an award. In fact, I earned a scholarship to the Wesleyan Writer's Conference through my work on the college newspaper. And later I won another award I used when completing my degree at the University of Connecticut. After graduation I worked for a regional newspaper as the editor and feature writer. The only pay I received was from ad revenue which I had to solicit myself.
I taught night school, signed on as a substitute teacher for elementary school, and took other odd jobs all the while dreaming of being a writer. It was the one constant in my life.
My sister said, "You never stay with any job long."
I reminded her. "I've been a published writer since I was 16. That's the only job I ever really wanted."
And so when I turned 50 my husband gave me the opportunity to stop working outside the home, and pursue my dream of being a writer. I took him up on his offer. I published a relatively successful newsletter for romantic book readers called Romantic Book Lovers Review. I read and reviewed books for my newsletter, and interviewed authors. I decided I enjoyed reading romance books so much I wanted to be a romance writer.
I started several novels but lost my way in the longer projects. I had to keep going back and revising the first chapter. Frustrated with working on novels, I tried writing short romantic fiction. There weren't many magazines publishing fiction, but I did find a wonderful source. The confession market. The first person stories about blue collar people facing problems in their lives and relationships appealed to me. I was, after all, the wife of a blue-collar worker. I had plenty of ideas for stories. So I created my confession stories and was a success with publication in True Story, Secrets, Bronze Thrills, Black Romance and others. I didn't get a byline, but I did get published, and earned money for my work.
This was the turning point for me. If these magazines thought my work good enough to publish and pay me, there might be other markets. I spent as much time studying the markets as I did writing. The dot.com web magazine explosion opened the writing world of the internet to me. I discovered many web magazines that not only accepted freelance work, and depended on it. For a while I was writing and selling almost every day. I sent my work in via the internet so there was no cost for copies, or postage. The pay wasn't huge, maybe $20 to $30 an article, but sometimes I hit a market that paid more. The exciting part of all this was that I could count on making money every month for doing what I loved to do, writing. I expanded from fiction to nonfiction. My first poetry book was published, and then a second. I was accepted in several anthologies. Until the bottom dropped out of the dot.com market, I had a career that was growing.
Now I am back to reevaluating my work. For a long while I accepted small pay for my writing and was happy to have that. I am prolific so it was no problem for me to write an article a day, a few poems a month, and one or more short stories a month. I also have four novels in various stages, and two nonfiction books in the works.
I continue to write for online publications who have survived the downfall of the dot.coms. I now am editor of several webseed sites focusing on specific topics. I continue to submit to anthologies such as God Allows U Turns, Chocolate for the Woman's Soul, and Chicken Soup Books.
Expanding my territory, I've queried better paying markets. Some accept queries on line for print publications, and others are web markets. I have several projects now in the works that promise to be lucrative. I'm especially proud to have a story in the the Guideposts Book series, Listening to the Animals, and in the most recent Chicken Soup for the Nurses Soul with a story about my husband I called, The Heart of a Nurse.
My 50th birthday was a turning point for me and the pursuit of my dream to be a writer. It took me to mid-life to finally reach for the fulfillment of my childhood dream, but at least, with my husband's blessing, I was able to do it.