On Monday I explained the reasons I was destined not to become a writer. Other talents and activities. Strange educational decisions. No scholarly examinations of the written word. And while all of those were factors, I saved the most important. Like so many of us, particularly those of us of the female persuasion, I was told that nobody makes a living in the arts. Unless we wanted to teach (fill in the blank here), then there was no point in pursuing an education in that field. So while I had always loved writing fiction, on the rare occasions I was given the opportunity, I knew writing was not an avenue to follow.
Forget that the short story class I took just for fun was the single most exciting class I’d ever taken. Forget that later, as a therapist, the sheer joy of writing up my case notes should have been carefully explored. Forget that I put myself to sleep at night with wild, exotic tales of other times and other people. Nobody makes a living. . .
I was in my early thirties before I was mature enough to question why I believed something so silly. I had fallen back on my years of piano, and was teaching twenty lively children while taking care of my own menagerie of three-going-on-four. One of the moms told me that she’d submitted the first three chapters of a mystery novel and had gotten a nod to send the rest.
She had submitted chapters and someone in New York City was interested? That happened? I was as excited as she was, for slightly different reasons.
Months later my husband came home and mentioned he’d met a woman who made her living as a writer. Okay, she wrote fantasy game scenarios, but she wrote! They paid her. And suddenly, all the red lights I’d patiently accepted turned green, and I was speeding toward a new destination.
Sometimes change is that simple and that complicated. I was finally old enough to question the wisdom of words spoken to me years before. Too, I was finally old enough to say, so who cares? I had nothing to lose. What were a few rejections or even a thousand compared to the joy, the bliss, of sitting down at a computer and putting words, MY words, on the screen? By then we were living in a strange new city (New Orleans is indeed stranger than most), and I had a new baby to care for. But all that suddenly seemed like nothing. I could find time. I could find a way. I could write. And I did.
I started, as I’d learned to in graduate school, with research. I read every relevant how-to book in my local library. Short stories? I wrote them. Confessions? Ditto. A children’s story sold. The $25 dollars I received in payment was my validation. I could write. Someone besides my husband thought so.
I did the math. At that rate I would need to publish at least a thousand stories per child in the family to get them to college. And by then, I wasn’t going to stop writing, even if I had to move the family to the proverbial garret. So it was on to novels. At almost the moment I realized this, Kathryn Falk of Romantic Times Magazine came out with How to Write A Romance And Get It Published. For me. I was sure of it. After all, that irrelevant education I mentioned before? I’d studied what? People, relationships, marriages, families, psychology, sociology, the American psyche, American culture. Was there ever a better background for what I really wanted to do?
I wrote a romance, then another. I found an agent (too good a story to tell quickly). They sent the book off, and the next thing I knew an editor in New York was calling to tell me how delighted she was to have bought my manuscript. The skies expanded. Angels sang. I still remember exactly where I was standing when the call came.
Sixty-something novels later, the angels still sing, and I am so grateful that I finally questioned the axioms of good-hearted people determined to make sure I had bread on my table and a roof over my head. But what did I learn when I finally realized I could and should write for a living? I learned that we as parents, as teachers, as adults, should never question or tamper with the dreams of a child. I told my own children that of course, they should pursue anything they loved. That, of course, they could become astronauts or composers or Arctic explorers. Even more? I believed it.
I still do. Why wouldn’t I?