Personal Statement: Tina Shelton

Up until yesterday I don’t think that I was qualified to write a personal statement. Despite feeling that I knew that I should be a writer as early as my kindergarten years, I somehow spent my entire life wrestling with this bear of an idea. You see, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in a small town in Wyoming, my lofty ideal of becoming a writer was met with a lot of helpful reasons why I shouldn’t pursue my dream. These people were well meaning, and loved me dearly, but the idea of me making enough money to survive just by writing books staggered their minds. They were trying to protect me from disappointment and hardship.

Unfortunately, enough voices in the chorus can be convincing. Who was I, that I thought I could write well enough to attract readers? Who would possibly interested in what I had to say?

I learned my lesson. Don’t write. It’s a waste of time. To be fair, this is probably not the message that anyone intended me to come away with, but I did. Until 2009, when everything changed.

For those of you who don’t remember, 2009 was the year that the economy bubble popped and burst everyone’s comfort levels. Layoffs hit me, then my husband back to back. We had a two year old son to care for. The economy was at the worst ebb it had seen. People talked about the Great Depression like it was a fond memory. Everyone was terrified.

Try though I might to find a replacement job, I ended up having a lot of free time on my hands. My son was happy to have Mommy time, but he was also content to play by himself, and other times I would sit down at night and let my mind wander and type.

I wrote two novels in 2009. Eventually I got another day job and quit writing, quit thinking about writing all over again. My novels were in my hard drive, and that was all that I cared about. It wasn’t until 2012, when a friend of mine had the brilliant idea to start up a publishing imprint and asked me if I had anything ready to go.

That was the start of something beautiful. Publishing had its setbacks, and the imprint didn’t exist for a full year before it closed down. My science fiction novel was the only one that got published. Differences of opinion, exclusion and losing the vision that started the little imprint caused its untimely demise.

What looked like the end was only the beginning. My friend Allie had no intention of letting it stop there. She saw the errors made by the previous imprint, and having learned from those mistakes she talked me into starting up a business. I went along with it because it sounded like a good idea. Deep down, I wasn’t sure that I could handle it. It seemed like so much work to put to put out a book. How could I publish another?

And yet, even after I got my next job, I started writing again. Little stuff, short stories, and then one short story caught my husband’s eye, and he demanded more. I fought him, I didn’t want to do it. The truth was I didn’t know how to handle this much support. Even working with Allie, I wasn’t certain I was in it for the long haul.

During this phase of fence-sitting, I sent my second novel to an editor friend of mine, and she told me that what I’d written was barely salvageable. I was infuriated! I was angry! I thought, “I’ll show her!”

It turns out she was right, but I had written and re-written the second novel more than thirteen times between 2009 and 2012. I tried and tried to craft it into something amazing. It didn’t work. What I learned while doing this exercise was a ton about writing, and when I started in on my science fiction identity theft story, I had improved my craft and figured out about beta readers and developmental editors and the important things that make a book good.

Through writer’s groups and industry articles and networking and the hours of grinding out stories, both Allie and I have learned a staggering amount about how this industry works. There’s always more to learn, but when I’m learning, it feels like something I already knew, and am confirming. It’s easy for me in ways that other things aren’t. Despite juggling my time with my now seven-year-old son, despite managing the panic of a loss of income, despite everything, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel as though this is what I was meant to do, and now is the time to be doing it.

Maybe that’s the paradigm shift. Maybe we’ve come to a point in our technology that we can start spending time doing what we love, rather than what we have to. Maybe money isn’t the greatest judge of value anymore. Maybe the imagination is where we’ll have to go to figure out a new way for human culture to develop.

Or maybe I’m just a science-fiction writer who believes in a better world, now more than ever.