Monday, April 23, 2012

Reflections from 30,000 Feet

I’m on my way home from my first Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Regional Conference. I didn’t go to my home conference in Indiana, but rather headed out east to the great state of Massachusetts to rub elbows with the North Eastern region. And now, flying from Hartford to Indianapolis via Atlanta, I have some time to think. But this post isn’t about the conference. That will be up in a day or two. This post is about what being a writer means to me.

My love for writing started at a young age. But as I grew older, I started listening to the “shoulds” and the “can’ts” of the world. “You should major in something where you can make a lot of money. ““You can’t make money as a writer.” “You like politics/helping people/college life, you should get your poli sci/psych undergrad/ Masters in Higher Education.”

So, I stopped writing and got degrees in political science and psychology and then on to grad school for HESA. And I’m glad I did. Had I strayed from this path, even slightly, I wouldn’t have the family and friends I have now, and without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

I no longer worry about what I should do or can’t do. Instead, I’m plagued by the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. (And it only just now hit me that these might be the grown up versions of my earlier doubts.)

“What if no one likes my book? What if I send out this query and all I get are form rejections? What if all the sacrifices I’ve/we’ve made have been in vain and my book never sees the inside of Barnes & Noble?”

“If only I could find an agent, everything would be solved. If only I could have written my book before the genre started trending. If only I could quit my job and write full-time.”

Being a writer isn’t easy. It takes an insatiable passion coupled with unwavering commitment to put my butt in the chair every single day, even if it’s the last thing I want to do. (And trust me, there are days when I would rather pull the fridge away from the wall and clean under it then sit down at the computer.) It means learning to balance the requirements of parenthood with the demands of trying to get published. It requires me to look at writing as a job, not a hobby, and ignore the notion that I’m not working unless there’s a paycheck at the end of the week.

Being a writer means having second thoughts about telling my friends and family I’m working on a book because after a couple of years it starts to sting when someone asks when my book is going to FINALLY be published. I know they mean well, and I would probably be upset if they didn’t ask me about it, but it still makes me a little wistful for the day when I can finally say, “Why yes, you can order my book online. Better yet, Let’s go to Barnes & Noble and sign a bunch of them for some lucky, unsuspecting reader.”

Being a writer means finding the strength to realize the novel I’ve spent the last seven months writing is in dire need of revisions that would make the Extreme Makeover producers cringe and probably walk, no run, away. Sometimes it means going so far as to put a beloved book in a manila envelope and tuck it in the back of a drawer, hoping it still has a future, but realizing it might not.

Being a writer means reading a lot of books I wish I would have thought of and some I still can’t figure out how they got published in the first place. It means telling my inner critic to shut up and leaving treats to entice my muse to show up.  

Being a writer means feeding my addiction of over-priced drinks at my local coffeehouse where, when I do get that book published, they better hang a plaque, honoring me for the multitude of hours I’ve spent writing said novel in their establishment.

Being a writer means reaching deep down inside my soul and pulling up the very best and worst I can imagine for my character (who is sometimes kicking and screaming at me to leave it alone.) It means sending out my literary baby and methodically exposing it to rejection. It means looking into the unknown and then taking a head first leap into the query abyss.

But most of all, being a writer means being alive. Being more myself then I ever thought possible. It means saying to the universe, “I have a story to tell and somehow, someway, someone is going to hear it. And then they’re going to love it.” (Which is followed by, “And then, the movie rights will be sold, the foreign sales are going to go through the roof and I’ve got to remember to schedule time to practice for my interview on Ellen. She’s going to know my name someday.”)

It doesn’t matter if you are called to write, be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or pick up garbage for a living, What matters is that you live every day being proud of who you are  and spend the time you have pursuing your dreams, not just following them. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment or better yet, make your own list of “Being a __________ means….” And of course, BE PASSIONATE about every moment of your life!


  1. What a fantastic post, and much of it sounds familiar. Do what you LOVE and LOVE what you do. It bears repeating. Thanks for this. I look forward to stumbling upon one of those signed copies at BN.

    Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the conference!

    1. Thanks for you comments! I'm still remembering nuggets of wisdom I gathered at the conference and with each new rediscovery, I remember why I write: because it's who I am!

  2. What a great post, Sarah! I'm so glad you came to Massachusetts this year--and that you found validation in our writing community! I totally related to everything your posts says...I'm finally able to admit I'm a writer, and even now (to non writer types) it comes out aimed at my belly button.

    It was so great to meet you and I hope we'll have a chance to connect again!

    1. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for NESCBWI! As for you... don't talk to your belly button anymore! You are an awesome writer... I have one of your books to prove it! If you need a fresh set of eyes to look at that manuscript, let me know!