The Accidental Writer

      I had no idea I would grow up to be a writer. I certainly never thought I’d write four books—which is what happened or will happen when my newest book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, comes out this spring. The embarrassing truth is that I wrote my first book accidentally. I’d like to say it was a grand plan because that would make me sound much more professional, but it would be a lie. Before I knew it, a second, third, and recently a fourth book snuck up on me when I wasn’t paying attention.

     These days, it seems like everyone I meet has a book in the wings, but I never thought that was for me. I thought of myself as a reader rather than a writer. I love to read what other people write. It’s my favorite thing to do.  With three children, I couldn’t imagine having time to write a book. Over the years, I learned that chapters leak out of my fingertips in search of a keyboard at the most inconvenient moments—in dark movie theaters and at 3:00 am when I should be asleep, for example. Trust me. There’s nothing you can do when that happens except hop on the writing roller coaster, throw up your hands, and see where the loop-de-loop takes you.

     For years, I lived a neat, orderly life. That was before I had kids, of course.  I worked as a teacher in a small liberal arts college. It was a good gig. Then I had three children in five years, and I needed a different schedule.  I also needed the occasional grown-up conversation to keep the two hemispheres of my brain functioning.  Nobody told me how much physical labor is involved in child-rearing. I found it shocking—akin to digging in the local rock quarry. Late at night, writing became my thrilling escape from the reality of four-loads-a-day of laundry and scraping cat throw-up off the living room rug. Writing is like therapy, only much, much cheaper. It is the adult version of tattling. That’s why it is so much fun to do.  

     When my kids were really young, I had to write in short time blocks, meager minutes scrounged out of the daily grind of errands, cooking, cleaning, and parenting. I began writing about what I know best, the ups and downs of daily life for a woman in a new millennium. Short, humorous essays came quickly and easily to me, and I began publishing a newsletter for twenty friends. I was curious to see if there were women in other zip codes struggling with the same life questions I wrestled with every day. Guess what?  There were. Are. Over the years, I have become convinced that the only differences in women all over the world are accents and geography. There’s something comforting about that.

     You can guess what happened with the newsletter. Women talk. Word-of-mouth works better than cable television. Newsletters were passed along to friends and friends-of-friends. A subscription list was born, and I found an audience of women and men all over the country who told me the same thing, over and over:

     “I feel like you are writing about my life!”  

     After about five years of publishing the monthly newsletter, I was able to sell a publisher on a book idea, and my first book, SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully, was sold. It was a hit, so I wrote another, The SWAG Life, and then, a third, I Love You—Now Hush (with co-author, Morgan Murphy). This year, my life with three teenagers inspired a new book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. I hope you like it!

     There isn’t anything unusual about me. I know a hundred women who could do the same thing if they had the time and the patience and the courage to tell the truth. I write chapters about ordinary things–grumpy teenagers, aging angst, and standing in line at the grocery store—aspects of life common to us all. My humor is always at my expense, no one else’s. Okay, the humor is a little bit at the expense of my teenagers in the new book, but I offered each of them the opportunity to read it first and remove anything particularly embarrassing. It’s not my fault they couldn’t be bothered, for the most part.

     My life is, apparently, a deep well of humorous inspiration. Friends who appear in my books come out smelling like a rose, but I never know what character-building adventure the Lord has lined up for me next. It is usually something I have just declared, publicly and emphatically, that I will never do. Feel free to yuk it up. I consider it my civic duty to spare my readers any incidents of public humiliation I have already experienced myself.  

     There is nothing in the world more exciting than walking past someone stretched out on a beach towel or crammed in a tiny airplane seat reading one of my books and laughing out loud. On one occasion, I actually tripped over my own feet and landed in an unladylike heap on the floor while relishing one of those moments instead of watching where I was going. It’s a good thing that reader turned out to be a genuine fan because I did some serious damage to her shopping bag trying to break my fall.

     Although it’s true that I’m not curing cancer or fixing the economy or anything noble, I am doing my small part to make the world a better place. I often hear from cancer patients who tell me they were distracted for a few minutes by something I wrote. That’s enough for me right there—even if I never earn another dime. If you add up my change-the-world minutes and yours, something big happens. All those minutes together make a difference. Don’t you agree? That’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings.

     I am a Southern writer. In many ways, my humor is the peculiar product of culture, history, and geography, but it is remarkable to me how similar women’s lives are all over the world. Even if we’ve never met personally, I bet we know some of the same people. In case you don’t know, let me tell you that Southerners are very big on identifying your “people.” If they haven’t heard any gossip about you, they fear you may be a serial killer. The South is connected like that. This can work for you or against you. It depends.

     I have found great joy and humor in the everyday aspects of our lives, things often deemed too boring to merit attention. There is no greater adventure than regular life being lived full-speed-ahead. For me, making people laugh is the equivalent of a two-margarita high. Laughter is one of the few things in life that isn’t dependent on good health, money, or leisure time.

     Real life, I think, is what goes on in between the highlight reels—the birthdays, weddings, and births. Some people are always so busy videotaping an event for posterity that they squeeze out every smidgen of joy from the actual event.  I do not want to be like those people. In my life, the best moments happen when I least expect them–when the beds are unmade, the kitchen is a wreck, I’m sporting last night’s mascara, and I have a fever blister.

     I’d love to say that my career as a writer was the result of a thoroughly mapped-out life plan, but it wasn’t. It was an accident, the best one of my life. 

 

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46 Comments

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46 responses to “The Accidental Writer

  1. Marissa

    Melinda, how true this is! I love reading everything you write. Keep ’em coming — and congratulations on the new book! I have precisely 5 years until there’s a teenager in my house. Guess that will be my self-imposed deadline for absorbing the nuggets of truth and inspiration from your book.

  2. Pingback: Southern Writer & Humorist: Melinda Rainey Thompson - The SITS Girls

  3. ashleyinnc

    Everything you said here is so true! Love it! Happy SITS day! 🙂 So glad I found your blog! Can’t wait to check out your books, too!

  4. Love this! Totally inspiring to a late-blooming intentional writer. Can’t wait to check out your books!
    Happy SITS day!

  5. that’s awesome! happy sits day.

  6. We seem to be living parallel lives! Write on, sister!

  7. Sarah

    Love this. Ever since I was a kid – I’ve dreamed of writing a book… but over the years the dream has slipped to the back burner. This post gives me hope. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. What a beautiful story. Congratulations on finding success doing something you love.

    I’m trying to be a recovering joy-squeezer. I tend to over think things and be too serious. I’m working on it.

    Congratulations on your new book. I hope it does wonderfully.

  9. I’m intrigued for two reasons. One, I teach teenagers, so I understand the combat … one minute I want to hug them; the next I want to squeeze the life out of them. Second, I know the secret — all southern women are funny. So, from one southern belle to another, here’s to your success!

  10. That’s fantastic! I couldn’t write if I was given free paper and all the pens in the world… But I might try for a free tablet and bluetooth keyboard…maybe.

    You are so blessed to have something you can do from home.

    In from SITS!

  11. I love this, Melinda. What a wonderful story. I’m inspired! 🙂

  12. You are an inspiration!! Your writing voice is so true and crisp and YES YES YES on the accents and geography! I have one teen now, two in their twenties and one is…. gulp… eleven and my first son. Not so sure how I will adjust to that! Happy SITS day & I look forward to knowing you more!

  13. Thanks for the inspiration post! I’m also from the south and LOVE a good dose of southern, “tell it like it is” humor. I started blogging to document my crazy adventures as a single gal living in Denver. I aim to make people laugh by my insights on dating and relationships! 🙂 I hope to one day turn my blog into a book or a play. (I’m a television producer/writer during the day.)

    Thanks for making my dream seem possible.
    -Leaza in Denver

  14. Thanks for the inspiration post! I’m also from the south and LOVE a good dose of southern, “tell it like it is” humor. I started blogging to document my crazy adventures as a single gal living in Denver. I aim to make people laugh by my insights on dating and relationships! I hope to one day turn my blog into a book or a play. (I’m a television producer/writer during the day.)

    Thanks for making my dream seem possible.
    -Leaza in Denver

    • Interesting! The book I’ve written you’d probably like best is I Love You–Now Hush. I wrote it with a co-author. We each write a chapter on the same topic–budgeting, housekeeping, fixing things, romance–the kind of things you’d expect. It’s a sort of male/female point of view. You might like it!

  15. So far I think you are an amazing writer. Congrats on all those accidental books. 😉 Happy SITS Day.

  16. When I was little, I always wanted to be a writer. My best friend and I would write stories and books like crazy, Yes, books. Somewhere, I still have those folders full of notebook paper containing my proudest seventh grade accomplishment.
    And now, I just love to write because it’s simply in me. The words ache to get out. I love that you call yourself an accidental writer, but I think it’s wonderful how it all came about.
    Happy SITS day!

  17. “Although it’s true that I’m not curing cancer or fixing the economy or anything noble, I am doing my small part to make the world a better place. ” *I love that! & it’s so true! I love giving people a respite – a mini-vacation – with my writing. & it’s so thrilling when someone comes to the end, and lets you know they’re as upset about having to leave the world you created as they would be if an actual vacation was coming to an end. What a gift being able to share our words is!

  18. Classic NYer

    I think you found the exact correct profession, because you’re a hell of a writer, missy!

  19. Wow. I really loved reading this and so glad that I’ve discovered your blog. Can’t wait to check out your books and the rest of your site!

  20. accidents can be the best thing ever. I have 2 that are 13 and 9. I will have to check out your new book.. I am not doing so good at this teenager parenting thing,

    • Love that phrasing of yours! I certainly don’t have the answers. Sigh. There’s something comforting about knowing you aren’t alone, though, and about laughing about it with other people going through the same thing. That’s what I’ve found in my signing lines for sure!

  21. This is so inspiring! I think we all that we have a book (or a hundred) inside of us! Happy SITS Day!

    • That is so true! I always say I know 100 women who would say the same things I do if they had the time and the patience and the courage to tell the truth. It just happens to be me doing it this time! I do feel more like a stenographer than a writer.

  22. This is wonderful! I found you through SITS – and I will definitely have to check out your books!!

  23. Thank you for sharing this… Really inspiring… I’m working on my first book now so… good luck to me! 🙂

  24. You are a huge inspiration to me. I pursued fiction writing several years ago before having 3 kids in 4 years – and then life became too “messy” between kids and working – to give all of those hours to fiction projects. Blogging has become the perfect vehicle for me for now, since I can whip out 500-800 words in a short amount of time and keep doing what I love. So great to visit your blog – and congrats on your successes!

    • What a nice thing to say! I had 3 kids in 5 years, so I SO know where you are coming from. All you can ever do it write in little bits of time. It worked for me. I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers is my 4th book! I will be the first to say that I’m pretty sleep-deprived on a regular basis, however. Ha!

  25. Congrats in your success!! Amazing!

  26. So glad to have found you via the SITS girls! I absolutely loved reading this!

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