Today’s blog post comes to you from Wade Rouse, one of our Vroman’s Ed writing workshop instructors. We’re excited to have Wade back at Vroman’s again this year every Thursday, March 20-April 10, from 6:30-8:30 pm for his new workshop, Facing Your Fear and Finding Your Voice.
How I Went from the Slush Pile to Bestselling Author (and how you can, too)
by Wade Rouse
I’ve come to believe that fear – rather than dreams – rule too many of our lives. Sadly, we tend to be scared of, well, pretty much everything. Over time, that voice in our head that used to drive us, challenge us, excite us is diminished, told to shut up.
That’s what happened to me, both as a person and a writer.
But I didn’t start out that way.
I know I was fearless when I made the fateful decision to sing Delta Dawn (while holding a faded rose, no less) at my rural middle school talent contest. I warbled my pre-American Idol song choice to a crowd that made the boys from Deliverance look like the Jonas Brothers. I was booed offstage.
I ran, stage left, directly at my mother and began to yell. “How could you let me embarrass myself like that?”
“You were only being true to yourself,” she said. “And no one should ever stand in the way of such honesty, or such fearlessness.”
She then presented me with a little, leather writing journal and a copy of Erma Bombeck’s At Wit’s End and said, “You will need both of these to make sense of your world.”
Writing – and humor – not only helped me make sense of the world but they saved my life. I set out to become a writer, majoring in communications and then earning my master’s in journalism from Northwestern. I secured a job writing for a prestigious publication, and was all set to write my first book in my off-hours. But fear came calling. In the voice of my father.
“How much are you making?”
“Do you know how much college cost?”
“Get a real job. No one makes it as a writer.”
I believed him. And for the next two decades I was miserable, culminating in a depression and job I chronicle in my second memoir, Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler. I learned that writers – all artists really – are never given the OK to write, or to create, no matter how much it means to their very existence. And, because of that, most artists start scared, defined not by inspiration but by fear.
Roughly eight years ago, I began writing my first memoir, America’s Boy. Check that: I actually started it as a novel, as I was too afraid to tell my own story of growing up in the Ozarks. Luckily, I had a muse, an editor, a critic and a believer in the form of my partner, Gary. After reading what I had written, he said: “This sounds nothing like you.” I was crushed. But it was just what I needed to hear.
And so I started over, eventually visiting my family cabin and writing by long hand what would turn out to be the first chapter of America’s Boy while seated on a stoop with my feet in the creek.
There came a point – finally, a point – that day when I was simply writing. Not thinking, writing. Writing as I had – before fear – when my mom gave me that writing journal. And everything clicked. My voice, my humor, my tone, my narrative flowed from my soul. I wasn’t writing any longer. I was my writing. The transition from Wade the person to Wade the writer was seamless. It came because I finally was able to overcome those fears that had shackled me my whole life:
What would people think?
Did I have the right to tell my story?
Am I good enough?
No one can make it as an author, right? What if I fail?
Who the hell do I think I am, calling myself “a writer”?
For a while, these fears paralyzed me again.
I made the decision – without Gary’s knowledge – to reach out to a number of authors I admired, whose work I loved. I wasn’t asking for a handout, or a connection, I was seeking the simplest of things: A response. A single line. “It’s gonna be OK, kid.” “You can do it, Wade.” They didn’t even have to mean it. I just needed to know that they had once been like me. That there was no “golden key to the kingdom.”
I got zero responses.
And, that’s when I had my second epiphany. Rather than be paralyzed by my fear, I thought – and this is so not literary – “Screw ‘em!” I believed in my dream, I believed in my writing, I believed I could change the world.
I realized that all published writers were once unpublished writers. I realized that writers are like babies taking their first steps: You have to do it by yourself, but it helps a whole lot to have someone helping you along the way. I finished my memoir, and then I did my homework. I spent months writing my query. I spent months researching agents. I spent months believing in myself, even though it seemed no one else – besides Gary and my mom – did.
One week after submitting 15 query letters to agents I admired, I had received seven offers to read my manuscript. Less than a week after that, I had three formal offers of representation.
I believe that if you have a unique voice, discernable talent, an incredible work ethic, amazing professionalism, a heart of equal parts stone, empathy and love, and a feeling that if you aren’t writing, you may just curl up and die – then you can make it as an author. I believe that if you just want to write, without a goal of being published – to write a family history, to diary for yourself, to become a more powerful business writer – that you need a hearty, “YES! Good for you! Go for it!” And that’s why I formed Wade’s Writers, and why I hold writing workshops. I am the guy who was plucked from the slush pile and became a bestseller. I am the guy who decided if he ever had any level of success, he would attempt to help other emerging writers.
My personalized, intensive and transformational writing workshops – which center on overcoming fears in authors’ lives and writing to find their true voice, and provide insider advice on securing a literary agent and finding success as a full-time author – are equal parts inspirational and professional, a mix of a-ha moments and nuts-and-bolts. My workshops focus on you and your writing, and have directly led to multiple authors having their books published (the latest “Wade’s Writer” being Matt Ziselman, whose memoir, Hounded, was recently published by Grand Central). Wade’s Writers rates of publishing success are significantly higher than the estimated rate given by publishers and agents (which range from 1-2 percent of all manuscripts that are accepted for publication). Moreover, “Wade’s Writers” form a lasting bond/friendship, share work and provide support and never let a writer stop what he/she started. My goal is not only to encourage talented writers but also to nurture a new “creative class” in an American culture that doesn’t support artists.
Remember Midnight in Paris? I truly believe that such support and encouragement has a ripple effect, from me to you to someone else, and that in one year, five years, a decade, there will be a core group of writers who started together and continue to support one another.
I can’t make you write. But I do think I can make you a better writer. More importantly, I can give you tools to succeed. I can give you inspiration and hope. I can help you crush those fears – in life and craft – that are holding you back. Remember, to be successful in life you must turn “FEAR” into “Free Every Artistic Response.” Remember, every published writer was an unpublished writer.
You just have to start.
About Wade Rouse:
The work of author and humorist Wade Rouse has been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E!, People, Salon.com, Forbes.com, Publisher’s Weekly and Writer’s Digest. USA Today calls Wade “a wise, witty and often wicked voice,” and the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic states that Rouse’s memoirs are filled with “sparkling humor” and that everyone should “read Wade Rouse, especially if you value laughter and wisdom.” Writer’s Digest recently named Rouse the #2 Writer, Dead or Alive, “We’d Love to Have Drinks With” (Wade was just behind Ernest Hemingway, and just ahead of Hunter S. Thompson).
Wade is the author of four memoirs: Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler (Harmony/2007), selected as a Breakout Book by Target; At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream (Harmony/2009), an IndieBound bestseller and Today show Must-Read; and It’s All Relative: 2 Families, 3 Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine (Crown/2011), finalist for a 2011 Goodreads Choice Award in Humor (with Betty White, Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Handler). Wade’s first memoir, America’s Boy, originally a Border’s Best Literary Memoir of the Year and Indie Next List “Great Reads” selection, was recently reissued and named to the American Library Association’s “Rainbow List” of the most important LGBT books. Wade created and edited the dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best Friend from America’s Favorite Humorists (NAL/2011), a Today show Holiday Books pick and Indie Next List selection. Bitch features essays by nine NYT-bestsellers, a Tony winner and a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk; 50% of the book’s royalties benefit the Humane Society of the US.
Wade is a celebrity writer for People.com, and an essayist for Coastal Living magazine, Metrosource magazine and Michigan Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
For more information about Wade, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @waderouse.
For more information about the workshop, click here.
To sign up for the workshop, please call 626-449-5320.