The Dream and the Reality

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When I first developed this idea that I wanted to be a writer, I was a young mom with three small kids. Let me clarify that I have ALWAYS been a writer in one way or another. My mother still has copies of poems I wrote in kindergarten which I’m certain she keeps for blackmail purposes. In junior high school, I wrote for the school newspaper, which was an honors English class of sorts. In high school I also wrote for the newspaper, but I also wrote for the literary magazine as well. I wanted to be a writer – but I wasn’t certain exactly what that meant, and I also wasn’t sure I could support myself. My dad told me, with all good intentions of course, that I should go into public relations or advertising. That way I could use my writing talent to earn a steady pay check.

It made sense, and that’s what I did. I got a degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis in Business Writing and Public Relations. I spent 12 years writing press releases and brochure copy, video scripts and speeches. It was financially rewarding, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. At night, I wrote in journals. I wrote poetry and short stories and I imagined having the opportunity to follow that dream that had started way back when I was a school girl.

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And then one day, my husband made me quit my job. I hated my job, and it was making me ill both literally and figuratively. I had three little kids and I was making just enough money to cover the costs of their daycare. It didn’t make sense for me to work full-time anymore. So I stayed home with my kids. I wrote them stories that I would tell them at bedtime. Eventually I took a part-time job, one that I could work around my remaining kid in daycare and the year-round school schedule of my other two. I worked as the manager of a ceramics studio – you know the kind where you pay to paint a mug or plate or figurine and the store glazes it and fires it in the kiln for you to pick up a few days later. It was a fun job, not challenging, and in the slow times, I would write.

One morning I woke up and realized that my baby was 6 now, and was in school full-time with the other two kids. I felt the pull of writing in a manner I never had before. But I also felt the insecurity that had long hidden behind my responsible career choices. I honestly didn’t know if I could make a go of writing. What if I failed? What if I wasn’t any good and the only person who liked my stories was me?

I had done some freelance writing for companies like CitySearch, and for a local parenting magazine, but I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to write books instead of articles. I’d gotten involved in a number of writing organizations, and somehow through them I learned about Vermont College and their MFA in Writing. After checking into the program, I knew it was what I wanted, and I have never regretted the decision to earn that degree.

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My dream of writing took on a new life. So many people from that same program had gone on to publish several books, had even won awards! I believed for the first time in my life that I could finally be a successful writer! I dreamed of book signings and speaking engagements. I imagined how amazing it would be to walk into a local book store and see my books on the shelf! I allowed myself to believe this was my future, indulged my fantasies of this new life I would have, and grew heady (and my family will tell you unbearable) with this new persona I would cultivate – the writer me!

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Clearly you can see where this is heading. Despite many years of trying, a lot of hard work and dedication (and if you write, you know it is hard work indeed), I’m this much further down the road, the realities are far different from the dreams. I’ve had 7 books published, numerous short stories and articles, and I’m continually working on new stories. I’ve done quite a few book signings. Some of them have been wonderfully successful, and others I have sat alone or with a friend being horribly embarrassed that no one wanted my books. I’ve done lectures and workshops in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and North Carolina. I teach creative writing for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program, but the biggest audience I’ve addressed was about 150 people – not nearly the packed auditorium I dreamed of when I started. And the closest thing I’ve come to a “writing persona” is that I write under two different names: my legal name for my kids books, and a pen name for horror. But I’m only me. I can’t take on an affectation as a writer because, well, I just can’t. I’ve been me for a long time and I don’t really want to try to be anyone else. I’ve worked pretty hard to like who I am.

I don’t have small children anymore, I have adults and a grandchild where my babies used to be. I don’t have a big name, but I have loyal readers and good friends. I gave up the dream of what I though my writing life should be, and instead I accepted it for how it really is. I’m really a pretty quiet, withdrawn person, and I think this reality suits me fine. I can lead large groups and teach workshops when I need to, but I have no desire for celebrity anymore. The reality is vastly different from the dream, and quite frankly, I’m just fine with that.

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It’s That Time of Year . . .

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!

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