#WhatsYourStory Featuring Wanda Morris
Wanda is a corporate attorney and writes under the pen name, W. Michelle Morris. She has completed her first novel, The Elephant Fighter, a psychological thriller set in Atlanta, Georgia .She won the ITW’s Thrillerfest Conference Best First Sentence Contest in 2016. She has attended the Yale Writers Workshop and this year she was selected as a Mentee in the 2018 Pitch Wars Mentor class. She is the 2019 Vice President of Sisters in Crime - Atlanta Chapter and a member of Mystery Writers of America.
LIFE AS AN UNPUBLISHED WRITER
My writing journey has been a series of ups and downs, stops and starts – essentially a dream detoured. For nearly two decades, I harbored the dream to become a professional writer. With echoes of my parents’ voices in my head, I convinced myself that writing was a folly and I had a “real” job as a lawyer. Yet, I still continued to read books – many of them written by lawyers. And therein lies the fallacy of my logic.
Twelve years ago, I finally put pen to paper (or rather, fingertips to keyboard) and wrote what Stephen King so aptly calls a “shitty first draft” titled, “The Good Guys.” After reading it a few times, the “smell” was so bad that I decided to put away my dreams of writing for good. I went about my life and my “real job” trying to forget that book or my nagging desire to create stories.
Several years ago, I had a health scare. Suddenly, I saw my life from a different perspective. So I did what any other self-respecting person does when they realize that they are mortal and the days ahead should be filled with purpose – I decided to follow my dream and I pulled out that manuscript. This time when I read it, I moved past the “smell” and tried to understand the real story I was trying to tell with my manuscript. And that story and those characters took up residence in my head like cockroaches in a cheap motel. They came out at night in the dark, when I sat in traffic or a meeting, anywhere where I had a spare corner in my brain. I started to tinker with the novel again. But this time, I took writing classes and honed my writing skills. I joined writing communities. I devoured craft books. I learned about story structure and pacing and anything else having to do with creating engaging stories. Eventually, I retitled my novel The Elephant Fighter. And I never stopped writing.
So am I published yet? Nope. But I’m on my way. Two years ago, I decided if I believed in my writing, maybe others out there who would believe in it too. I challenged myself to do something I never thought I would do. I entered the ITW (International Thriller Writers) Conference’s Best First Sentence Contest. Baby steps folks – I wasn’t quite ready to let someone see the whole darn thing. On the day of the conference when winners were announced, I sat up in my chair a little straighter, a little prouder because I had submitted what I believed to be a spectacular first sentence. They called out the winners and my name … was not among them! I was heartbroken.
But I didn’t stop writing.
The next year rolled around and I entered the contest again. This time, they called my name. I was one of the winners.
And still, I didn’t stop writing.
After a ton of revisions, I applied to the Yale Writers Workshop using an excerpt from my manuscript. Miracle upon miracles, I was accepted. I learned as much as I could from that experience. It was during that summer at Yale that I had an epiphany. I discovered that I was a writer. Not because someone else graced me with that title. I was a writer because I did what writers do – I wrote.
My epiphany came late albeit, but nonetheless, the mental shift was dramatic and I finally became comfortable with the idea that I am a writer, that writing could be a “real” career. It didn’t have to be my day job, but it could be a legitimate line of work.
Riding the high of my new mindset, I started querying, confident that agents would be clamoring with requests to see the full manuscript. It would be just a matter of time before I would be “getting the call,” a publishing contract, and an advance. Oprah’s Book Club Pick, here I come!
Well, not so much. The form rejections started rolling in almost immediately after I hit the “send” button. The agents who actually took the time to read my submission or have their assistants do it, sent their rejections a few days later. All the while, I was told to consider myself lucky as some agents take months to respond. Personally, getting rejected sucks whether it comes as fast as a bullet train or as slow as a steam tanker.
But I didn’t stop writing.
In August of this year, I submitted my manuscript, The Elephant Fighter into the Pitch Wars Contest. Selected writers are assigned to a published author who mentors them for three months on their manuscript revisions before querying. Another miracle happened. I was selected. I am now in deep revisions of my novel with an incredibly talented author who truly exemplifies the generosity of the writing community.
So what is my lesson from all this, if you’re inclined to take advice from a newbie writer still working on her first book with no publishing credits to her name?
As I tell my kids, I’ll give the advice, it’s your choice whether to take it.
My advice is simple … Never stop writing.
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.