I have always wanted to be a writer.
Growing up, my most treasured dream was to see a book with my name on it on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. I wrote constantly throughout middle and high school. In college, I majored in writing, with the hopes of turning my written ramblings into something coherent that people would actually want to read.
I never considered any other type of writing except for novels and when I started my teaching career, it seemed that my dreams of writing professionally had to be put aside forever. I was lucky, though. I fell into writing for a newspaper while raising my daughters. That led to writing for She’s It and a few other online blogs. Suddenly I had a byline and my published articles began to stack up.
And yet, it still was not novel writing. I have a great idea for a novel, but no time to pursue writing it. My dreams of being a published author have drifted further and further away.
And then, in 2016, I learned through Facebook that my friend and former colleague, Amy Poeppel, was publishing her first novel.
I had no idea Amy was a writer.
She worked in the admissions department of the school where I taught her sons. When I learned her first book was to be published, I was writing book reviews for a small newspaper and reached out to Amy to see if I could review her novel.
She happily agreed and kindly sent me an advanced copy to read. I enjoyed her book immensely.
I was delighted to learn that Amy’s second novel, “Limelight” was published on May 2. I can say without hesitation—and not because of our personal connection—that I loved the novel. It’s a book about motherhood and Manhattan, spoiled pop stars and Broadway shows. It is full of Amy’s trademark humor and keen observations. I have happily recommended it to everyone I know.
Amy was kind enough to speak with me about her newfound career. As someone who published her first book when she turned 50, she was quick to tell me never to give up on my own dreams.
The World of “Limelight”
“I wanted a little bit of real estate, a little bit of private school, a little bit of what families deal with when they move [to Manhattan]—that feeling of thinking it’s going to be easy and it’s not. The book honestly is just wish fulfillment. I have truly always felt that I really would have been good for Britney Spears. I am so convinced that she just needed someone like me in her life. I used to think that all the time when she was spiraling out. I just think, where’s the person who sits them down and says ‘NO! This is not what you’re going to do’.”
“If I could go back, I would write bad stuff more. I would dabble in short stories and throw them out at the end of the week.”
“I wish I had done more writing in general even if it didn’t go anywhere. Because I don’t think that’s what matters as much as the doing of it, the practice of it, the getting used to sitting for a long time. When your kids are little, forget it. I mean it’s just so difficult, but I feel like all of those early efforts are what’s teaching one how to write. I wish I had done a bit more of that, even if it’s just an open Word document where at the end of the day you just write down three funny things that happened today. Even if you never opened the file again, the act of just putting it down walks it into your head a bit better.”
“Even when my kids were little, I made sure [I read] great fiction. The best class you can take is reading good fiction, but also fiction that really fits into the genre that you’re trying to write. Just read all the top books that are in your genre.”
Everything is Material
After I complained about hardly having time to write, Amy responded, “What you do now is actually helping. It’s going to make you better. Women can look at our lives as having different chapters to it and when you’re in the mom to tiny children chapter, you’re getting so many stories that you’re not even necessarily thinking about but they’re happening to you all the time.”
“Whether it’s your kids having a disappointment and having to help them through something or dealing with other parents, teachers, the politics of the playground… everything you’re doing, it’s all material.”
“Know that these are all experiences that are going to contribute somehow. Somehow that thing that happened on the playground is going to end up helping fix some storyline problem that you have later.”
Write What You Know
“To write about stuff that’s really familiar to you is so fun because you have confidence about it. I think there’s a lot of joy in taking something that you know so well and writing about it. In my case, just to write about the humorous side of these things is just incredibly fulfilling to me. I really enjoy that. Write about stuff that you really care about. That can be tragic stuff that you really care about or hilarious stuff that you care about or the kind of people that you care about. Because I find writing so unbelievably difficult, if I had to write a book about a topic I didn’t care about, I don’t think that would be possible. So it’s really good to sort of take the time to figure out what you’re most passionate about and then write about that.”
Work with a Professional
“I work with a freelance editor which is something that I highly recommend if you can find somebody wonderful whose judgement you really trust. To me it’s a professional person who I can talk about the arc of the story and she can say, ‘look out for that’ and ‘be careful of this’. Then she’ll say to me, ‘here are four books that I want you to read’ that have the feel of the book that I’m working on just to sort of get my head in the right place. It’s a financial commitment but if you can, work with a development editor, especially for your first book, to help you shape the story or reshape the story if it’s finished. It’s the best money I ever spent.”
Keep Moving Forward
Amy loves her new writing career. Even though the writing itself hasn’t gotten easier after two books, she’s having a great time.
“The only way I can keep doing this is if I keep writing books. My agent said to me you really need to be thinking like a book a year even if it doesn’t end up timing out that way. You need to always be thinking about what’s my next project.” Amy is currently working on her third book, but “somewhere in the back of my head I’m thinking, what’s the fourth one going to be?”
Trust That the Timing is Right
“I really feel like I couldn’t have done this sooner. This was the right time for me to start putting pen to paper in a more serious way. There are certain careers where you can do this at that point of your life and do this at that point of your life and be able to move jobs and move your focus. It’s moving your focus as much as it is the actual job. I think that life is long. There’s plenty of time. Sometimes it takes 10 years to write a book and it sometimes takes 1. It just depends what stage of life you’re in.”
It’s Never Too Late
“If you get to a phase of life when you can’t tackle like a thousand words in a sitting, don’t take that as a defeat. That just means that that day was good for something different, which will somehow come back full circle and end up helping you as a writer someday even if you can’t see it.”
“I take my hat off to these 5 AM writers’ club people who get up every morning and write from like 5-6:30 before their kids are up or whatever. That was not me. I admire that discipline. I didn’t have that discipline myself but I do think stealing a moment here or there just to put a couple thoughts on paper is never a bad thing.”
Amy Poeppel is not only a talented, funny writer, but she is a true inspiration. While we were chatting, I truly felt that my dream of being a published author was not dead. I’m determined now to take more notes on funny situations on conversations in my own life, with the knowledge that someday, those little vignettes might turn into a full blown novel.
I am so grateful to Amy for her time and for sharing what she has learning about being an author with me.
Amy Poeppel’s “Limelight” was published on May 2. She will be promoting the novel at various events this spring and summer, including a stop at The Doylestown Bookshop on July 21.