Cut your own path through the woods
I started writing when I came out the womb. One of the first things I learned was how to write creatively. I wrote short stories and poems. A lady told me that I needed to copyright my songs. I didn’t know how to do that. I was 11 years old. I needed $25 to get my songs (which I put in a book and called poems) copyrighted. That $25 was $1 million to me. When I was 12, I published a little book on songs/poems. They were written on notebook paper. I mailed them off to Washington, DC to be copyrighted.
Living in the small town of Gibsonville, NC, I felt separated from the world. I had a cassette box with a microphone, so I wrote and recorded stories. I found things in my room to make sound effects. I was creating audio books back then and didn’t know it!
Writing I loved, but my teachers wanted me to focus on math and science. It was my strong suit, but I didn’t like it. In college I majored in economics. I was so bored….couldn’t stand it.
I later received a Master’s in English and began to teach. Since I was teaching and reading a lot of what should be the best writing in the world, it made me want to write. I kept thinking about all the stories that started coming out of me.
What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?
My brother made me examine what it was like to expose others to my writing.
What were the specific obstacles that you faced?
I had to figure out the finances. Once I write it, where do I go from there? Who are the people I need to meet? What do I do next?
Things have changed so much since I was 12. The self-publishing industry has exploded.
Dealing with anger was challenging. I spent so many years reading great work and few were by African-Americans. I wondered why there is so little out there. It’s not that we don’t have the talent, that we don’t have the stories, it’s that mainstream publishing is set up to shut us out. I became tired and frustrated. I wanted to scream. It’s difficult trying to conquer the beast of mainstream publishing and not know what to do.
What helped you get through?
I decided to continue to pursue mainstream publishing, I am cutting my own road through the woods.
As African-Americans, we don’t have to wait to take on our stories. We can take it on ourselves. We are creative people…we really are. Add to that the ability to forge our way when there doesn’t seem to be a way. That is the strength of African-Americans. We can forge through and make a way.
Were there people that tried to discourage you?
Mainstream publishers. If you are an African-American, you already have all the negatives stacked up against you. Everything seems to be negative.
The agents, publishers and representatives were very discouraging. They told me that memoirs are the hardest to sell because there are so many of them. I was told, ‘There are lots of inaccuracies in this genre. Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to write non-fiction?’
How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?
Woop Woop!! It was such a great feeling. It was quite a bit of work, but I had a lot of fun. I had to have some snuggle time with Jesus to say, thank you.
What advice would you give to others contemplating finally living their dream?
Life is short, even if you live to be 120. So stop wasting time. Do it. Nobody wants to be sitting around, barely moving, saying, ‘I should have pursued that dream of mine.’
To learn more about Stephanie Freeman and her memoir, When Disaster Entered My Eden, visit her here.