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The War Inside: Part 3

I didn’t know what to expect at a romance writers conference—except that I wouldn’t know a soul. Which was true. And that they’d be standoffish and treat me like a freak. Which was paranoia talking, because nothing could have been further from the truth.

Everyone—start to finish—was so kind. Like I said, I couldn’t walk far, or for very long without having to rest. But there were seats everywhere. Being a man of his word, my husband walked with me. He only had to do it once. After that I was pulled into groups while complete strangers joined in my painfully slow progress, chatting all the time about books and craft and writing and workshops and books on writing.

Supporting Friends

It was glorious. And that was just the beginning.

The keynote speaker, Donald Maass, opened my eyes to aspects of writing and storytelling that had never crossed my mind. I felt like someone had tipped the most amazing jigsaw puzzle out onto a table on my mind. On my own I’d managed to fit together a few stray pieces—grey and lifeless winter sky. Now the speakers and workshop presenters kept handing me others—not grey, but full of bright color and bursting with life and vibrancy. 

Jigsaw Puzzle

On the first day someone asked me if I was going to pitch. My first thought? Baseball? Me? Seriously? :-)

Baseball Game

Then I learned pitching was “the writer’s description of a potential story” to an editor or agent. I’d brought my manuscript with me of course (no one told me you weren’t supposed to do that, or drag the book into the pitching session) so I said yes—and they squeezed me into a slot. Fortunately for Donald Maass, my husband had taken himself off for a walk (knowing I was in good hands) and the conference rooms were too far away for me to get up to our hotel room and back before my pitch time, so I didn’t walk into the session with the manuscript. I did almost everything else wrong through.

Looking back now, I think the man deserved a medal. Or cake.


He was unbelievably kind. Being a complete greenhorn I didn’t know what to say, so I just spilled out my problem with the book and asked him how to fix it. I’m cringing as I write. He’d given an entire day’s workshop on precisely this, and I was asking him to take ten minutes and make it specific to my book—which he hadn’t seen, thank heaven—and, if he had a spare moment, give me an idea of why x wasn’t working. Oh God, should I delete that last sentence? No. Because he did. Not specific to my book, but as close as makes no difference. He didn’t seem to think I was stupid for asking questions. In fact, had I thought of xyz? Or tried abc?

That’s when the lights went on in my head and in my heart.

Lightning Strike

I wasn’t alone. Other people—normal people—lived with voices in their heads and stories in their souls all clawing to get out. Get told. This was what I wanted. I’d found my place. I wanted to write.

The thing I remember most about that moment is the incredible sense of joy. A bubbling effervescence. It had been so long since I’d felt joy—felt anything except a dragging “who cares?”—that the exhilaration nearly bowled me over.


I left that pitching session determined as hell. I would be a real writer—a damn good one—and if I wasn’t good yet (and I wasn’t) I could learn how. I had (counts on fingers) twenty half-finished stories. Those alone would keep me going for years

Then I remembered. I didn’t have years. I had eighteen months. Eighteen months to finish twenty books? Not a chance. Even the one I’d finished, if I had it accepted by a publisher tomorrow, wouldn’t be on the shelves for what? A year? Two? I probably wouldn’t live to see it. 

And you know what? That thought really pissed me off.

Suddenly I wanted to live. To write. To tell my stories. I wanted to make that difference. To entertain, encourage, bring hope … I wanted what I’d wanted from the time I was seven years old. To change the world.

I couldn’t do that dead.

But living meant I’d have to change my lifestyle, my habits—all the things I’d failed at for years and had put me where I was. How could I do it after so many failures—and now with a clock ticking in my ear?

I remember getting into bed that night caught between despair and hope. Deep inside me was this fledgling desire that had nothing to do with other people’s expectations or agendas, and everything to do with my own vision.

“I want to live,” I told my husband, crying. “But I don’t know what to do.”

He just held me. “You want to live,” he said. “That’s a start. Now we find a way.”


Was there a time you suddenly found clarity and purpose in your own life? What happened? Tell me in the comments.


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Dear Gracie, how great that you had your moment…….still kinda waiting for mine, but I’m hopeful it will happen……and very happy that your not dead x x

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