Sandra Schwab's Writing Tips
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Aspiring But Never Despairing
by Sandra Schwab

When I was seven years old and working on my first novel, I decided to become a writer. It seemed only natural, for as long as I can remember, I had always invented stories in order to amuse myself. During the first years I wrote fantasy stories which quickly took on epic proportions, before I turned to melodramatic poetry in my late teens. Throughout all these years the dream always remained the same: to become a published author. Thus, I started to think about publication. Seriously. Zealously. Full of enthusiasm and the firm belief the world was just waiting for me.

The crashdown into reality was, well, harsh.

Because whoever was waiting for me out there, it definitely wasn't Germany, my homecountry. I never made it into second rounds of writing contests. Indeed, the winners all wrote very different things than I did: their texts had An Important Message and were about Important Issues of Our Time. I wanted to tell a good story. Eventually, I gave up on the writing contests. To receive anthologies with the texts of the winners and not finding my name among theirs, was just too depressing.

But, hey, all's not lost, right? So I decided to try something else. "Houses of Literature" can be found in most big German cities. The ideal place to get one's name out, to get noticed, to take that one wonderful step from dream to reality, from aspiring to published author.

Unfortunately, these are also ideal places for The Most Horrid Expierence of Your Life to happen. Take a "poetry workshop": a public reading of three aspiring authors (among whom you're the youngest at 19, looking like 15 at best) (but at least you're not the 30-something nutcase who took out a little wooden camel and started to play with it in the middle of somebody else's reading) , a moderator who's a lecturer of German at university (translate: awe-inspiring), and an audience that will happily rip your work apart after the reading and be very pseudo-intellectual about it. Ever heard of creative suicide? Yep, that's what I was doing.

But the dream was still there, even though I gave up writing poetry after this oh-so-wonderful experience. I returned to fantasy fiction once more. In the course of the next five or six years, I wrote four novels and send out dozens of queries to publishers in German-speaking countries. And thus I became an expert on rejection letters in German. I reached the point where I thought about sending back a specific rejection letter and telling the editor that he hadn't used the correct standard phrases.

By the time I was 24 and the proud owner a huge folder of rejection letters, I finally realized I had a problem: I wasn't writing what German publishers bought from German authors. My wished-for writing career was over before it had ever started.


But the dream, my big dream, wasn't dead yet. I still had one tiny, little chance: since the biggest influence on my writing were British and American authors, why not write in English?

All right, so it's not my first language, and I don't live in an English speaking country either, but hey, what did I have to lose? The worst that could happen was that I would become an expert on rejection letters in English as well. Hey, I could maybe even do a study on rejection letters, a cross-cultural comparison of rejection letters. Whatever. I only needed a new folder.

Lots of people told me I was nuts to try to write in a second language. People like Samuel Beckett might have pulled it off. But I? And really, I would never be able to write as well in English because it isn't my native tongue. Therefore I would never be able to compete with writers whose first language is English.

In a word, I should better give up straight away.

Yet by that time I had already made a discovery: I had discovered a writing community. I had discovered authors' groups, crit groups, things that did not (and probably still don't) exist in Germany.

And suddenly, I was no longer alone.

I had found a creative family online, wonderful ladies who helped me to struggle through my first novel in English, to overcome the difficulties of switiching languages, to find my voice in English. They taught me that writing is never cast in stone, that revisions are necessary; they taught me to accept criticism, and with all that, they taught to me to fly.

And guess what?

Today my writing is better than it ever was in German.

But what's more, my dream has finally become true: by the end of July 2005 I will be a published author. I got The Call after I had won a RWA writing contest and the editor who had judged the historical category requested the full manuscript.

Some people tell me that I'm wasting my talent writing romances.

Some people tell me that I will never reach my full potential as a writer if I continue writing in a second language.

Well, let me tell you something: some people are just plain jealous.

Ignore them.

I'm flying, my dream has become true, and nobody will be able to take that away from me again.

So don't give up your dreams. Fight for them they're worth it!

Sandra's debut novel, THE LILY BRAND, a dark historical romance, will be a July 05 release from Leisure B ooks-Dorchester. For more information please visit her website at or read her blog at

We appreciate Sandra's contribution to the writing tips at Once Upon A Romance.
Please, visit her website for more info. Click on the link below.

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