I’ve often said there’s not one thing about the writing life that doesn’t fit who I am. Let me qualify: I like to be inspired; I like variety; I like independence; and I like to be able to switch gears from serious to fun, from hurried to calm, from difficult research to lightweight spoof. The elasticity of a writing career allows me to do all of that and more. Other writers describing their lives to reflect who they are? Could be totally different. I think we’d find that each writer’s priorities mirror their individual quirks and strengths.
I began my writing trek by earning an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, finishing January 2004, ten years ago last month. I was older and wanted a jumpstart. The information I gained at VCFA did just that, especially what I learned about the writing industry in general. I soon enjoyed success by selling an illustrated biography and multiple articles in children’s magazines. I wrote some contract books and appreciated learning the self-discipline needed to meet the specific specs publishers required. Soon after, I self-published a biography that continues to sell without much effort on my part. But after years of submitting book-length manuscripts to publishers, waiting a minimum of three months for replies, and only occasionally selling something, I became impatient and potentially discouraged. I have returned to writing magazine articles, which now includes works for adults as well as continuing to submit book-length manuscripts. Once again, my need for moving around from one genre to another, learning new disciplines, and keeping the inspiration fired has led me in that direction.
Another piece of variety: For the past eight years, I have conducted book-writing projects in public schools. I work with participating classroom teachers to help students write fiction stories, nonfiction pieces, research essays, or poetry. We coordinate this approach with a company that provides book-writing kits and publishes a hardbound book for each student. This program is funded by our local Arts and Humanities Department, Arts Councils, and awarded grants here and there. I liked that these projects keep me around young people. I observe what interests them, what they are reading, and most of all, how they write.
I’ve also developed another project rationale. I become acquainted with a community, identify a group of senior citizens who have stories in common, and recruit them for a book-writing endeavor. So far, I’ve done one group that wrote about some portion of their individual life stories, three groups of World War II veterans, and one group of Korean veterans. Each writer is matched with a high school student partner who does the technical work—key the story, prepare photographs for publication, etc. The relationships between the generations has become the greatest blessing of this approach.
I write because nothing else charges my internal batteries in the same way. I lose track of time. I become fascinated with the research process. I like the magic that happens when words roll off my fingers and I wonder where they came from. When I have discretionary time, such as on the weekend, I usually end up on the lighted side of my computer if I’m not engrossed in reading a book. I love words, the way they sound, the impact they make, the multiple ways they go together, the risk of using an unfamiliar word for a new meaning, the sparkle they add to life as well as the gloom.
I spent many years looking for the answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I found writing, I knew that was it. I’ve not regretted the time, heartache, joy, and persistence it’s taken to get where I am now—a writing life fashioned just for who I am.