What Do You Want to Be?

Adults always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. What a weird question. It’s not like kids even have any idea about all the things they could be in the world. When adults pose this question, they’re invariably inquiring about career choice–as if a job or a career could possibly define a person. What if a kid wants to be brave? Or curious? But these answers would never do–adults would just chuckle and ask patronizingly–again—yes, but what do you want to be? 

Adults always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. What a weird question. It’s not like kids even have any idea about all the things they could be in the world. When adults pose this question, they’re invariably inquiring about career choice–as if a job or a career could possibly define a person. What if a kid wants to be brave? Or curious? But these answers would never do–adults would just chuckle and ask patronizingly–again—yes, but what do you want to be?

At 8 years old, I announced–completely unbidden–I was going to be a writer when I grew up. This wasn’t some made up answer to entertain an adult audience. This was my truth. I was 8 years old. I loved reading above all else. And one day I wanted to make that magic with words. I wanted to write books that kids would fall in love with.

The adult privy to this revelation laughed. “Well, what are you planning to do to make money?

I was crushed. I was a super-sensitive kid. If an adult thought I couldn’t be a writer, well then they were probably right.

I never mentioned wanting to be a writer again. Even as I poured through the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia to pen my first book, “The Little Suitcase” based on–you guessed it–a suitcase who travels the world, I said not one word about writing to anyone.

Not when my essay won an award at the Broward County Fair.

Not when I aced AP Language and AP Literature.

Not when I got my degree in Literature (which I supplemented with a degree in Communications–you know, so I could make money).

In fact, my default joke became “I critique other people’s writing so I don’t have to do any of my own.” Which was bullshit. I wrote academic papers all the time. And, trust me, it is an art form to make that kind of writing accessible and engaging. I loved literature. And I lived for the rush of writing papers and putting something out into the world–something that I felt like made a difference.

I finished graduate school.

And I didn’t write again for 5 years.

The first thing I wrote after all that time was a blog. Only my friends knew it existed. But it rekindled something—a belief that I could DO this. That I could write pieces that people would connect with. That my writing could make people feel and experience things.

I started writing again in earnest in January 2015. I sat with my friends in front of a cozy fire on New Years Eve, and I told them that I wanted to be a writer. That admission felt huge to me–and so very vulnerable. But I put it out there–and I felt the weight of accountability for this intention I’d set for the upcoming year.

Writing was my salvation when Simon transitioned. It helped me make sense of him, me, us… Writing about Jane helps me process and appreciate what she’s learning, how she’s growing. Truth be told, if I don’t write about it, I kind of feel like it doesn’t exist.

Once I got comfortable putting myself out there, it came back to me: the desire to write a book. For kids. A book that would change a kid’s world. Right about that time, I stumbled on NaNoWriMo. I made it halfway through my first novel (a middle grades book about whether biology or love makes family), and I quit. A novel is a giant undertaking. I’d never written so much as a short story. I may have jumped in a bit over my head. (It’s kind of my way.)

In July 2017, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. And I wrote an entire novel–35,000 words–from start to finish. I loved every second that I spent writing those characters. I loved how they surprised me. I was enchanted by the way they evolved and discovered themselves… I was completely hooked.

But here’s the most surprising part (to me, at least): I have put myself out there time and time again for this book. I’ve opened myself to critique and rejection–both of which I am notoriously bad at–for the sake of getting this novel into the world. And I continue to surprise myself in this process.

I’m undertaking a major revision of my novel during this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s why:

1) I got a rejection from an agent, which was really more of a “Not yet. Needs work. You started in the wrong place.” And I didn’t die. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that she even responded to me. And I took her suggestions as evidence of her belief that, with work, this would be a book worth publishing.

2) A friend/mentor of mine looked at the first 5 chapters of the novel. And she told me it needed work–like some pretty serious work. Again, totally didn’t die. I didn’t even crawl off to lick my wounds. I just started revising. Because that’s what writers do.

I wish someone had told me when I was 8 that I could be anything, do anything. But that isn’t my story. And life has become, for me, a matter of owning my own story–and the stories I want to put out into the world.

 

Saying Yes to Sloth Backpacks (& dreams)

On July 1, I embarked on my biggest writing adventure yet: a novel. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 8 or 9 years old. This obsession coincided with my newfound love of Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was my hero: independent, smart, determined. I wanted to write something like that–something that would make a kid not want to put the book down until the very last page.

Then I made a mistake. I let an adult in on this dream of mine. And, as adults sometimes do when they think they’re just being pragmatic, this adult laughed and said, “But what are you going to do to earn money?” For some kids, this nay-saying would’ve only made them more determined. But I was a pleaser. And my self-esteem was shaky at best. So, what I heard is, “You may love writing. But you don’t have what it takes to make it. Go find something attainable. Something that doesn’t require any real talent.”

Even as I got older, when it was clear that I could write–that people enjoyed reading what I wrote–I stuck to academic writing. I can’t do creative writing at all, I’d say as if it were totally no big deal. And then I’d make some offhand quip about how I’d let other people write the stories, and I’d just critique them. Which, you know, denied my own dream, belittled an entire profession, and also managed to be self-deprecating. I was a piece of work.

But this dream wouldn’t let go of me. It was determined, even if I was not. I tried multiple career paths… communications (at least I got to write sometimes), writing instructor (maybe the dream would just shut it if I taught someone else to write. Hundreds of someones. Nope.), children’s ministry director (what the f…?!?). But, on a transAtlantic flight back from Paris, I got real with myself (I mean, hell, I had time… what else was I going to do for 7 hours?). I admitted that I would not be happy, could not be happy, unless I was writing. What that looked like could be negotiated. But the writing, that was non-negotiable.

A few of my friends took a chance on me and hired me to write for them: blog posts, technical papers, web content. I loved every minute of it. Because I was creating something. Something that wouldn’t exist without me pouring my heart & soul into it. I’m so grateful that I get to do client writing all the time now. And I’m so grateful to my friends for believing in me.

But that dream….writing a novel… it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago, through Facebook I think. And I intrepidly started a novel last November. Which I quit in the middle of. Because it was hard. Oh, and that’s right around the time my marriage was falling apart. So, you know, my creative focus was a bit out of whack.

But this July, I found Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if it’s because it’s called “Camp” and that made it sound fun (read: non-intimidating). Or if it’s because I had characters living inside my brain that were dying to get out… But I started a novel. And I’m 6,999 words away from completion. And every minute I’ve spent writing it is like living a dream. A dream I’ve had since I was 8. And any time a voice has tried to tell me I can’t do it, or that it’ll suck, I’ve told it to SHUT THE HELL UP.

I’m doing it. And I’m madly in love with my characters. I even bought the very same backpack that my character, Rowan, has. Because I feel like she’s with me all the time. Might as well be backpack twinsies.  (And, besides, sloths are cool.)

I wish I hadn’t spent years believing a lie about myself. I deserve to live into this dream. At the very least, I deserve to give it a chance. A real chance.

I’m almost there. And it feels really, really good.