When I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a teacher, a ballet dancer, and an actor. In fact, that last one went on for so long that I ended up applying to (and getting into) college as a theatre major. I was going to graduate and then land a part on Broadway! I was going to get paid for singing songs and having scripted fights with other people on stage! I was going to win awards and be famous!
Then I moved from the high school theatre scene to the college theatre scene, and I slowly began to discover something very important: as much as I liked being on stage, I didn’t like doing most of the work that went along with it. Practicing dialects was an annoyance. Picking out the perfect sixteen bars of an audition song was a chore. Staying in shape was, not gonna lie, the bane of my existence. To the point where I basically didn’t bother doing it.
But in order to be a professional actor, you have to do those things. Even if you don’t like doing them, you have to be willing to do them. (Just like nobody likes writing query letters, but if we want badly enough to get published, we damn well write them anyway.)
And I wasn’t willing. I didn’t want to play the game of becoming an actor; I wanted to skip to the part where I won. I wanted to be on Broadway and win Tony Awards, not do all the work that comes beforehand. Luckily for me, I realized this before college was over. Having completed the three years of studio training necessary to get my BFA in acting, I left the theatre world behind, did the quickest English Lit double-major that anyone’s ever seen, and decided to go into book publishing.
Why book publishing, you ask?
Well, while I was having the slow realization that acting just wasn’t for me, at least not in the professional sense, I was keeping myself sane by writing. I wasn’t trying to write with an eye toward publication. Exactly the opposite, in fact; I wrote fanfiction, which you can’t publish for money, unless you want to get sued. (Exceptions to this rule include 50 Shades of Grey, all those fantasy franchises like Star Wars and D&D, and Gregory Maguire.)
Writing fanfic led to posting said fanfic online; posting it online led to my becoming involved in a fanfic community or two; becoming involved in the communities led to making friends with other fanfic writers. And as we all know, befriending writers leads to – say it together now – having critique partners! Before I knew it, I had friends who would read my work, point out flaws, and suggest fixes. Friends who would stay up all night talking with me about character arcs and plot structure. Friends who were willing to let me dig my fingers into their own work in the same way. And none of it felt like work. It was fun.
The fact that it was fun was probably why it took me so long to realize that these skills I was cultivating actually translated to the real world. That there were people who made a living doing these things. I started looking for work in book publishing, and eventually landed my current agency job. The job that allows me to work in a very hands-on editorial capacity with well-established authors, bestselling authors, brand-new authors, and everyone in between.
When it comes down to it, the fanfic community and the publishing industry aren’t all that different. One has more deadlines and “gatekeepers” and, well, money, but at their hearts, they’re both about people working together to tell stories – and that’s probably why I ended up coming back to writing, this time with an eye toward professional publication. Being in a creative environment, even when there’s business attached, fosters more creativity.
But then, the same thing is probably true of the theatre industry. In fact, one might argue that any artistic profession is about telling stories, collective creativity, etc.
So if that’s true, then what was the difference? Why am I a writer now, instead of an actor?
The answer is simple: It’s because writing is a game I like to play. I don’t write because I want to see my name on shelves, or because I want to be asked for my autograph, or because I want a starred PW review (although, hey, those things would be cool too!). I write because I like playing the game. I like revising until I get my characters just right, until I find that one exact word I was going for all along, and until the ending feels satisfying. I like receiving and using criticism. I even like those stupid deadlines.
And you know what? It turns out, staying in shape is a lot more fun when I’m not doing it for a good grade in dance class.
Lindsay Ribar is a literary agent by day, a writer by night, and a concert junkie 24/7. Her first novel, The Art of Wishing (Dial Books, March 2013) is about making wishes, making music, and making out. She thinks you should read it.