Sara Etgen-Baker, of Anna, was 16 years old when her first story came to her. She remembers the feeling of her pen in her hand and how it wandered across the page generating that first story.
Years later, Etgen-Baker has had more than 20 of her stories published in anthologies and magazines. Most recently, Etgen-Baker’s story, “On the Wings of Change” was published in the newest “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book titled “The Power of Yes: 101 Stories about Adventure, Change and Positive Thinking.”
“Each word tugged another one along until I wrote one sentence, then more sentences and then pages,” she said in an email interview about the first story she wrote. “I lost myself in the story that yearned to be told; and I loved creating imaginary characters and a fictional world and making it seem real. To get into the flow and create something from nothing — well there was no other feeling quite like it; and I dreamed of being a novelist like Pearl Buck.”
That was 1968 and Etgen-Baker knew that being a female writer was not something that would be easily accepted.
“‘Dreams are all well and good but be realistic,’” she said her mother insisted.
Her mother wanted Etgen-Baker to find a practical way to use her love for words and writing, so Etgen-Baker took her mother’s advice and went to college to study English.
“After graduation, I taught English encouraging my students to love words, to write boldly, and to read for understanding,” Etgen-Baker said. “To satisfy my writing desire, I wrote curriculum and edited textbooks. For 30-plus years, I felt intensely purposeful, but not personally creative.”
Today, she has a take on how dreams can control the minds and hearts of humans.
“Dreams are strange creatures, though, and won’t be ignored forever,” she said. “Mine was no different. It eventually gnawed at my soul making me restless, irritable and discontent. I had to make a change. With my husband’s encouragement, I took the first step: I enrolled in an online writing course then wrote and submitted my first story. The response from editors and readers was unexpected and overwhelming.”
In 2010, Etgen-Baker decided to revisit her dream and begin the stories that she had inside.
“I was 58 when I began writing memoir vignettes and personal narratives,” she said. “I began my first novel when I was 62. I now actively write five days a week.”
Jumping into what she calls a demanding self-discipline that includes trust and courage, Etgen-Baker said the life of a writer is a risky business because authors have to deal with rejection, criticism and being disliked.
“It necessitates placing emotion at the center of my life and my work; becoming conscious; and writing from a place of insight, simplicity and truth,” she said. “It means being vulnerable, and anyone who’s consistently vulnerable faces uncertainty every day. Despite the uncertainty, I haven’t changed my mind about being a writer. The risks are well worth the price, for I leave behind little pieces of myself in the words I commit to paper and in the stories I tell.”
As for Etgen-Baker’s work with “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” she said the opportunity to have her story in the anthology happened accidentally.
“I’d received a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology for my birthday,” she said. “While reading the stories within the pages, I realized that ordinary folks write these pieces. Am I an ordinary person, too, I thought. So, I went to the website and read about the possible book topics in which I could submit. I also read the submission guidelines. The guidelines were straight forward; and the submission process was simple.”
She wrote many pieces and four have been published by “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
“In addition to submitting to contests, I’m compiling all my memoir vignettes into a book of memoirs that I hope to publish by 2020,” her email said. “I’ve completed about half of the rough draft of my first novel, “Secrets at Dillehay Crossing.” I’d truly like to get that first draft complete by the end of this year.”
“On the Wings of Change” is about fear and facing the unknown.
“Although I’m not perfect at letting go of my fears, I’m at least more aware of the negative impact fear can have on me,” she said of the story she wrote for the current “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” “I’ve learned to watch for the outward signs and inner feelings that are indicators of my fear. Many writers experience writers block which I believe is nothing but fear — some type of blockage. As a result of my awareness, writer’s block doesn’t really happen to me.”
For individuals that may not be confident about their own abilities, Etgen-Baker said the key is to find opportunities to do what you love and do it repeatedly until it becomes comfortable.
“What is that old adage?” she asked. “Do the uncomfortable until it’s comfortable. I guess what I’m saying is being uncomfortable and feeling less than confident are normal parts of doing what one loves. You have to become comfortable with risking yourself and knowing that the discomfort will pass. I think finding someone supportive is also a tremendous help in boosting one’s confidence. My husband, Bill, is my number one supporter and fan. He’s also my muse.”