Approximately four years ago I purchased a book called Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed by Michelle Morgan. Inside the book was the email address of the biographer whom I decided to contact about her wonderful work. We later added each other on Facebook and have been online friends ever since. By being her friend I have seen not only updates on all of her book releases including biographies on Madonna and Thelma Todd but also a bit about her life before she became a full time author.
But how did this mother of one, wife and now boss lady go from working a ‘normal’ everyday job to become not only an established author but screen writer for a future production about Marilyn Monroe? Today’s post gives a little insight to how Michelle followed her dreams, showing that it is possible for you to do it too.
Going from working a regular day job to becoming a full time author, and soon screenwriter, can’t be an easy or smooth process. How did you go from deciding to be a writer to pursuing your dream?
I spent many, many years trying desperately to be a full-time author. My first book, ‘Marilyn’s Addresses’ was published when I was just twenty-five, and by the first publisher I sent it to. That was such an easy experience that I believed it would be easy to get another published. Wrong! I struggled for a long time and it was actually another eleven years before I got a second book contract.
I came close several times to having a novel published. One agent picked up my manuscript from her slush pile and really loved it. She phoned as soon as she read it, and asked for some revisions, because the book was written as a diary and at that time Bridget Jones was out and she felt it may be unfairly compared. So I revised the manuscript and sent it back, only to find that the lady who believed in it, had now been moved to the thrillers section of the agency. The person who took over her job, did not like the book and declined to take it on.
I sent it next to a really big publisher and the commissioning editor told me that it made her “laugh and cry” and she really wanted to publish it. Sadly, when the editor took it to a meeting, her colleagues in sales did not agree with her thoughts, and it was rejected. That was one of the hardest things that ever happened in my early career. I had been so excited and the editor was so positive that things would happen with it. For six months the book had gone through different stages at the publishing house, and to have it handed back to me by the postman (completely out-of-the-blue) was a severe blow. I received the news at 8.30 am and had to go to my day job just moments after receiving it, which was just awful.
Were you afraid to make this change in your life?
I was desperate to make the change. Absolutely desperate for it. I worked in a place that did not recognise that I had any talent at all, and while a few colleagues were supportive, others literally laughed when I told them I wanted to be a full-time writer. I spent hours standing at the photocopier, dreaming of the day when I could fulfil my dream, and wondering how it would eventually happen. Seventeen years I was there! I was so bloody-minded that I refused to leave for yet another day job. I just wanted to do my stuff.
What was it that made you take the leap?
I became pregnant with my daughter in 2003, and this enabled me (in 2004) to go back to work part-time instead of full. Having a child made me absolutely determined to live my dream because I wanted her to be proud of me. However, I knew it was not something that could happen overnight. As luck would have it, I found a course to teach yoga to children, so I did that and when I ended my maternity leave, I worked some of the week at the old day job, and the rest setting up a yoga business. I also became a regular contributor to a yoga magazine, and the two combined meant that I could finally give up the day job and become a full-time mummy, yoga teacher and writer. It wasn’t long before I got another book contract (for Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed) and then began working freelance as a columnist for my local newspaper.
I always tell my daughter that all my dreams came true when I had her, and that is absolutely correct. She inspired me so much and everything started happening the moment she came into my life. She continues to inspire me to this day.
Was there a particular inspiration that made you decide to write? I know your first published piece was on Marilyn Monroe (a particular favourite of mine as you know), was it Marilyn that encouraged you to become a biographer?
Yes it was. I never set out to be a biographer at all. I wanted to be a novelist, and to work on non-fiction books such as the one I did about Marilyn’s locations around the world. It never for one moment occurred to me that I could write a biography. Then in the year 2000, I approached an agent about doing a revised edition of my ‘Marilyn’s Addresses’ book and he said he’d be much more interested in a full-scale biography.
My first reaction was to say no way, but then I got thinking about it and realised it was actually a brilliant challenge. I am a huge fan of author David Stenn, who has written some of the best biographies ever published. I took him as my inspiration and started looking into writing Marilyn’s complete story. I came up with loads of information I never knew before, and became very excited about it. By this time the agent had gone off the idea (story of my life!) but I continued to do my research and write a proposal. Then in 2005, I finally found an agent who believed that Marilyn needed a new biography, and by 2006 he had sold the idea to a publisher.
That’s how I became a biographer, and I really love the challenges and rewards that this genre brings. I would certainly still like to have a novel published (I’m working on two as we speak) and I absolutely love screenwriting, but I am sure I will always write biography as well, because real-life, historical stories really fascinate me.
What draws you to these stars that you write about? Is dispelling myths about these stars and rumours something that drives you?
It is a funny thing, but I have absolutely no idea what draws me to particular stars and not others. As soon as I heard about Thelma Todd, I knew I absolutely needed to write about her. The same with Carole Lombard. But then someone will send me an email asking that I write about another particular star, and I automatically think “No!!” I have no idea why some attract me and others don’t!
I do enjoy dispelling myths and uncovering mysteries, but more than anything I love to show that despite being famous; despite dying young or in mysterious circumstances, these ladies were human beings, first and foremost. They were not just images on the screen; they were made of flesh and bones just like you and me. I think that comes as a surprise to some people, but it is an absolute priority in my work.
How do you keep motivated? Any tips for writer’s block?
Fear of failure is a great motivator! I have an absolute terror of failing, so working hard is a way of hopefully deterring that. I also suffer from anxiety and if I don’t write, my mind goes into overtime and I end up worrying and stressing about really silly things. Work is definitely my way of preventing that. If I don’t write, I’m not easy to live with (as my husband will tell you!).
Regards writer’s block… To be honest I don’t think I suffer from that very often. There are certainly times when I’ve stumbled, or wondered what my next project should be, but when I’m in the middle of a book, I generally just write and write. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly times when I only manage 500 words a day, and it is like getting blood from a stone to get them on the page. But if I have a deadline, then I need to get those words out regardless of what my mind is telling me, so I just get on with it. Having a timetable is a great way to keep motivated. I have one that I keep with every project, and I aim for at least 1000 words a day. Often I do 2000 words and sometimes I hit 3000 words, but that is not generally the norm!
If you were able to interview anyone who would it be?
I have quite a few people I’d love to interview! If it was someone from the past, I’d love to talk to Marilyn, Thelma Todd and Carole Lombard. If it is someone from the present day, I’d have to say Madonna. I am a huge fan, and would really love to sit down and have a chat with her. Maybe one day!
Since becoming an author who is the most interesting person you’ve met?
I have met or spoke to some really fabulous people. I interviewed Olivia Newton John a few years ago and that was a real highlight. She was my idol when I was seven-years-old and to speak with her on the telephone was a real honour. The same goes for people who worked with or knew Marilyn. I remember talking with the actor who played Jane Russell’s love interest in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and I was so excited. Also becoming friends with Marilyn’s friend Bill Pursel has been a huge part of my life. Bill and his wife Mac are like family to me now. I keep in touch via email, and a few months ago we skyped for the first time, which was a really lovely thing.
I also love meeting readers and getting to know them through social media. In 2012 I did a talk at the National Portrait Gallery, and then another in 2013 at the Victoria & Albert museum. These two events were beyond exciting. They were exactly the kind of things I used to dream about during those long hours at the photocopier when I had my day job.
How have you been able to adapt everyday life around your writing? Do you have a routine?
When my daughter Daisy was small, I had to write when she took her nap, and then when she went to bed at night. I would have all my research in the living room, so the moment she went down, I could pick up my notes and get on with it for an hour or maybe two if I was lucky. This is basically how I wrote the first version of ‘Private and Undisclosed’, because she was very, very small and only began pre-school after I’d actually finished writing. Now Daisy is twelve and it is much easier to schedule my writing around her, because of school, friends etc.
Here is what my typical day consists of: I try to be at my desk by 8.30 or 9 am and then I answer any emails, interviews etc that have come in. Then I start my book work, which could be either research or actual writing, depending on what I have to do that day. I work until 4, which is when Daisy comes in from school, then after dinner I get back to my job, either reading notes or doing more research. I generally make sure I go to bed at 10, and that’s when I do my extra projects, like researching for a future book, or writing long-hand in a notebook. I wrote most of my Marilyn screenplay (entitled M…) during the hours of 10 pm to 12 am, and I loved every minute of it. I work very long hours, but I love what I do and to me it is an honour to be able to do it.
What advice would you offer anyone who is wishing to give up their day job to do their passion full time?
I would say to make sure you have your fingers in as many pies as possible. For instance, when I gave up the day job it was because I was running a yoga business and writing at the same time. I could never have gone straight from my job to full-time writing, so yoga provided a great bridge from one world to another. Nowadays, I try to make sure I have at least two projects on the go at the same time, and I’m always thinking about the next one. I am working full-time as a writer at the moment, but I can never rule out the possibility of taking on a part-time job if I need to raise extra pennies. Writing is an exciting career, but royalties come sporadically, so be prepared to take on as many different projects as you can, and always be open to working in different ways in order to pay the bills and enjoy your life.
Most of all don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. With a lot of hard work, determination and drive, dreams can and do come true. ALWAYS do your best and believe in yourself, even when things get tough.
A big thank you to Michelle for taking the time to answer these questions. You can visit her website here.