My senior year of high school a favorite teacher told me that I would make a great teacher. I reminded her that I was attending Michigan State University as a pre-med student intent on one day becoming a pediatrician. See, teaching was the last thing on my ‘things I wanted to be’ list. I was going to do something important.
Twenty-six years of teaching later, this memory still makes me shake my head at my ridiculousness. One semester into my college education, I realized I had no true passion for medicine. Lost, I used an intro to education class as an easy elective, as it put me into a second/third grade classroom working with kids. Easy “A” I thought. I left that first half-day session knowing that I had to be a teacher.
Through teaching I have touched hundreds of lives, inspired children and young adults to brandish powerful words, and used my experiences to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a published author.
I cannot remember a time in my life before writing. Folders filled with ideas, stories, and poems still sit in my bottom nightstand drawer. Scribbling down my descriptions of major events, powerful moments, and even simple times brought me such fulfillment. However, walking into a bookstore one day and having my name on novels available for others was my biggest (and private) dream.
Without teaching, I don’t know if I would have fulfilled this goal. In the spring of 2006, I received a flyer about a summer writing opportunity. Since only fifteen teachers would be accepted, I completed the application, mailed it in, and crossed my fingers. My acceptance information came on a day when I was at my lowest. Having recently survived a brutal divorce, I was devastated both emotionally and financially. Becoming a member of the Red Cedar Writing Project changed my life.
I found myself writing more than I ever had in my life. I couldn’t stop writing, staying late on campus, waking up at crazy hours to grab my laptop or notebook, dragging words out of new places, digging into crevices of my soul that made me weep, dig deeper, and keep writing.
Most importantly, RCWP forced me to share my writing, take constructive criticism, and write in ways I hadn’t experienced prior. That fall I created the Mason Middle School Writing Club in order to snag the interest of young writers. Showing my writing to the kids gave me a real audience for the young adult novels I hoped to have in my future, and anyone who works with kids knows they are blatantly honest!
In November of 2008 I wrote my first novel, something that will most likely stay saved and locked away safely in its folder! I knew I could finish writing a novel though, and that’s what was important at that point.
The following year during National Novel Writing Month, I sketched out my plan for Flowers for Rodney. At that point, I’d worked with middle school kids for over ten years. I’ve seen the increasingly difficult issues kids bring with them every day into school. Most of all, I knew from raising my own kids the frustrating barricade which existed between teens and parents.
During one particular discussion with my son, I realized that I needed to write a novel that would help to bridge that gap, and Rodney Birge was born. I wrote with a passion I hadn’t experienced with earlier works. Rodney and his mother, Susan, Phillip and Melanie were real people for me.
As I wrote, the story seemed to unfold before me, and I struggled to keep up with what the characters were sharing with me. My words would have the power to reach into the hearts of teens and their parents, sharing the emotions in a way that would hopefully allow each to better understand the perspective of the other.
It took me five years from drafting to publishing for Flowers for Rodney, my first published young adult novel. There were many times I wanted to give up, leave it alone to sit in silence with my other private journals and folders of writings.
Thank goodness I have the amazing circle of friends who pushed me to not only share drafts with them, but then kept on me about revisions. Have you finished yet? Did you send it to more agents/publishers this week? My nagging, wonderful, supportive friends and partner would not let me take the easy out on this project.
Since I didn’t really want to either, I can now say that I am a published author. Yesterday I met with the RCWP summer writing program high school students for my first official “Author’s Visit.” Tomorrow my local Mason independent bookstore is hosting an Author’s Reception…for me! I find myself dreaming even bigger now, wanting to reach out to more readers, write more novels, and become the next Laurie Halse Anderson.
Reaching my dream hasn’t made me want to stop. I see now this is just the first scaffolding to the next adventure.
Dare to dream! Ignore the doubters who feel the need to temper your desire. Fight for what brings you joy and fulfillment. It took me nearly forty-nine years, but every breath I took, mistake I made, tear I shed, and belly laugh I shared were necessary.
This is my story of how I came to achieve my dream of being an author. Being asked to write for this amazing young woman’s cause is especially powerful, as she was one of my students many years ago. I’d like to think I had a small bit to do with her growing into such a strong, powerful adult.
Her cause is worthy, and I do believe, that together we have the power to change people’s lives for the better!
Make a $30 Empowerment Investment and help other women achieve their dreams like I did.
Proceeds from the 30 in 30 campaign will benefit the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing and Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). Both organizations work with women to help remove barriers, reach their full potential and achieve their dreams.