On Reaching Milestones


Monday I was speaking to a combined fifth-grade class about my author journey. I mentioned how I’d been identified as a good writer in fifth grade and how my teachers, family, and friends told me throughout my school years I should be a writer when I grew up. Then in my senior year, that all changed. “You can’t actually be a writer,” some of those same people told me. “That’s not a real job.” I was terribly discouraged. I’d been misled. So I got a history degree, knowing if I ever did write, I wanted to write about history.

I told the students, “Those people were wrong, by the way. This week, I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary as a professional writer.” The kids burst out in spontaneous cheering. I wasn’t expecting that. And then I realized, milestones should be marked and celebrated.

The picture above is of me at age 24. I had recently quit my dead-end job to become a freelance writer, whatever that meant. My husband of six months was worried. We needed the $600 a month I’d been making to pay our rent. But he didn’t try very hard to talk me out of it, and he has supported my career ever since.

In the photo, I’m typing on a crappy word processor because we didn’t have enough money to buy a computer. I could have stuck with my electric typewriter, but I wanted to feel more cutting edge.

For the next 25 years, my career meandered from freelance writing for newspapers and magazines, to short stories and personal essays, to dabbling in commercial writing, to authoring seven books, to speaking and school visits, to writer’s coaching, to a one-woman show, to blogging, to webinars and products, and so much more. Mine has not been a terribly lucrative career (though I’m still hopeful), but it has paid some bills and allowed me to stay home with my kids, and it has brought me so much joy. I hope it has also helped people connect with history and with their own inner artists.

I told those fifth graders that if writing wasn’t their thing, something else surely would be. There would be something in their lives they’d be good at and feel passion for.

I just hope that when they find it, they turn a deaf ear to the naysayers and follow their dreams.

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