It’s Good to Be the Queen

COFW posterI’ve spent the past few days at the Central Ohio Fiction Writer’s conference, where I gave two talks. The first was on tweaks writers can use to clean up their prose, the second was on lessons learned five years into the published author game.

Writing with a goal of publication is hard, for at least two reasons. First, the aspiring author likely faces years of rejections and “failure,” if the goal is traditional publishing as opposed to self publishing. Even if the goal is self publishing, the author can still fail in the sense of not finding the right readers for the story. I’ve met people who’ve pursued that goal for fifteen years, and were still slogging away when last I heard. So there’s an element of uncertainty about a writing dream, the same as with any dream.

Kiss and TellThe other source of difficulty on the aspiring writer’s path is that it might all be for naught. Even if the aspiring author hangs in there, and hits the workshops, and pitches good manuscripts to all the agents and editors, she may NEVER find the right match. All this trying, and enduring, and dusting herself off may be for NOTHING.

To have no sense that your suffering is moving you toward a goal, and no guarantee that you’ll ever get there, is miserably daunting. What keeps so many people on the path to publication is that to some extent, they don’t  walk that path alone. Romance writers in particular support each other, boost each other along, and help each other. Most of us, I’m convinced, really do believe in love. Really. Do. That we value each other, that we value each others’ dreams means, when we come together, the gathering can acquire an element of shimmering, luminous hope.

unicatI’d not realized until this weekend, that just by being who I am–an author who found a publisher after a few years of scribbling away–I create hope in others coming along behind me. I’m proof their dreams can come true, proof they’re not silly to think that in their retirement years, their child-rearing years, their mid-career years, they can yet aspire to another career.

Wow. Many of them haven’t read my books, and never will. They care only that I survived the uncertain years, and I’m hoping they all do too.

unicorn prettySo I’m listening to the storytellers’ stories, offering all the encouragement I can, but it occurs to me: We’ve ALL survived the uncertain years. As parents, spouses, employees, bosses, and more. We ALL have encouragement to offer each other, we all have the capacity to guard each others’ dreams when the road is long. When that spirit of a shared journey prevails, it’s amazing what leaps of courage and feats of endurance can result.

So I wish to each of you, good friends along the journey. Who’s dream could you guard? Your children’s? Your spouse’s? Your siblings? When were you somebody else’s example of a journey successfully completed–because you have been. You absolutely have been.

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 American Express gift card.

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45 comments on “It’s Good to Be the Queen

  1. My daughter made two decisions last year; she wants to attend law school and she wanted to spend a semester abroad. I was surprised about the semester abroad but, not about the law school.

    Semester abroad means planning, fact finding and extra expenses. I want DD to reach for the stars….a semester in London or Dublin….such a wonderful experience. We made a plan, a positive plan. DD worked 40+hours a week at the local Dunkin Donuts for 4 months over the summer and saved her money. She worked nights and weekends and learned to say no to a few social temptations. I have been working extra hours at work. And she has researched, gathered her information and applied to King’s College in London. I am so proud of her. She has selected courses and is looking into housing.

    DD gave me a hug today and thanked me for helping her figure out a plan to make her dream come true.
    That was a great MoM moment.

  2. I bought my first home on my own, with a creative use of credit to get my downpayment, and I’ve encouraged quite a few women to find their own way to make their dream of owning a home a reality by sharing my story. It was something I wanted very much, and I made it happen and I hope I’ve helped a few others to do that too.

  3. As the unmarried aunt with her own house, my place has become a place of refuge over the years to various nieces and nephews who were looking for escape from mom/dad, significant other or spouse.

    Without going into detail about each case, I’ll just say that there is a fine line between being encouraging and enabling but I think I walked it pretty well. I did give them all the free advise I had, but we all know what “free advise” is worth (smile).

    In the end I think all they needed was a safe place to get their lives in order. It all worked out well.

    • Mary, a very experience foster mom told me that while the little foster kids were cuter, more biddable, easier to help, she gravitated toward the older kids. In her experience, all so many of them needed as “a place to start.” A place that wasn’t mom and dad’s house, but was still safe and welcoming.

      Kids who don’t have that place to start can end up in some pretty bad places, so I’m nominating you for Aunt of the Year.

  4. I often hold myself up to newbies just starting their schooling to go into my field. I made a career choice path and switched it at the very last minute, and I’m so thankful for that switch. So I tell those coming behind me, it’s never too late to make the switch to what you really want to do. That’s been a big encouragement to several people that I know of, and I’m sure more that I don’t know about. It’s always good when your own actions can have a moralizing effect on those coming up behind you, I think!

    • I dodged out of music at the last minute in college–or added to it–and ended up with degrees in both music history and political science. Never regretted that, though I have wished I’d pursued the degree in folklore, too.

      Change can be so scary, so to see you having made that change, and never looking back must inspire those around you. Well done!

  5. I can offer clarity to someone in turmoil (as long as it isn’t me!!). I find I am thanked for my insights, my ability to organize a jumble of anxious reports, my dispassionate summaries. I seem to do this automatically and somewhat unconsciously so I can’t give lessons. I am glad I can do it for others. I am especially glad that it helps me interpret what the children I work with are expressing.

    That only leaves my mired of weaknesses for which I do not seem to have the determination to overcome… amusing on good days, demoralizing on bad.

    • Sue, one of the first things they teach you in conflict management programs is that you make it a lot more likely that people can find a solution if all you do is approach them and the problem without anxiety or agendas. The non-anxious (non-controlling, non-manipulating) person makes the situation better simply by not flipping out.

      If they can also analyze the situation and offer a dispassionate report, they’ve made a huge contribution to an eventual solution. It’s a great skill, and I hope those around you appreciate you for it.

  6. I guard my children’s dreams. I try to make sure to support and encourage them in every way possible. My daughter is about to graduate and wants to be a radiologist. I am helping her plan for that. My son plans to go to England one day (or any place in Europe that he can) to play soccer. It is a big dream, but I am going to help him every way I can.

    • When a parent gets behind a kid’s dream, it can change the child’s entire perspective on life, and on themselves. Well done, Ann–but don’t forget to save some enthusiasm for YOUR dreams too!

  7. I try to support and encourage the dreams of my daughter and her family in any and every way I possibly can.I remember back to my last year in high school when I went to school, went to work, then went home and studied half the night. The only encouragement I got was from the lady I rented a room from, I even had some teachers suggest I drop out and get my GED but I refused as back then a GED was basically a useless piece of paper.
    I want my family to have their dreams come true if at all possible.

    • Molly, your schedule reminds me of my early single parenting days, but thank goodness your landlady was supportive. When we look at the foster kids who succeed versus the ones who fail, the success stories often had one person–just one–who was in their corner. Your entire family has you in their corner–lucky them.

  8. I never got much encouragement but I find I love giving it to others whether it be when I worked or friends but especially my children. Many times it’s just giving them the confidence to believe in themselves. I’ve always been willing to share what I know and I think you’re definitely right about romance writers. They mostly seem like very generous people.

    • Catslady, I came to writing romance from a courtroom perspective, and that adjustment was almost comical. WHY are they being so nice? What IS IT with these women? But it’s a mighty relief now to be in a community where nice the norm.

      Your description of yourself reminds me of every time somebody has quietly picked me up, dusted me off, given me a pat on the shoulder, and set me back on the path toward my dreams. The smallest kindness can save a dream, and I’ll bet you’ve saved many.

  9. Honestly I dont think I have achieved this point in my life yet, at 26yrs old i am still very much striving to make it. to obtain the career i want and the ability to make a difference and support the dreams of my friends and family:) I guess my son looks to me for that but that would be natural since he is only three. I am honestly truely stumped here.

    • Beg to differ, Kathalina. You know somebody, or you will, who’s in the first, weary, messy weeks of motherhood, and she’s feeling overwhelmed an bewildered. You’ve got the mom thing down, and you can tell her to hang in there, because it gets better.

      You know somebody who’s struggling with high school grades or politics, and when YOU say, “this really isn’t the end of the world,” you’ll have credibility.

      Twenty-six can know a LOT–sometimes more than seventy-six.

  10. I’m guarding my husband’s dream. He is an artist and would love to get his art “out there”. Our family and friends are on board but you only give so much art away in the hopes of actually selling paintings. He has a God-given talent and I’m so proud of him!

    • Mary, I hope he’s in a community where his talent can be appreciated. A friend told me the other day that part of the reason she’s retiring to Asheville, NC, because it’s a notoriously art-friendly and art-supportive place. Tell him for me to hang in there, because creative self-expression is good for the soul–for everybody’s soul.

  11. Grace, wish I had known you were in Columbus? I live near there and might have crashed the author party! Well, I don’t know that anybody’s dreams are worth protecting more than others. I just believe that our country has dashed a lot of dreams of children of color, especially boys. That American dream thing has lost its truth for most of us. Disillusioning, depressing, and demoralizing. Everyone needs to believe that what we think and do makes a difference. If someone else holds all the power and all the resources, it makes our choices very limited. Sorry to be a downer on the dream machine, but that is happening in our world as I see it. Hope something changes very soon.

    • Mary, I was just ranting to a friend earlier today about institutional prejudice in the criminal justice system. You do not DARE be a young man of color in that system. Your presumed guilty and it goes downhill from there.

      How to be part of the solution when the problem feels so overwhelming is a daunting question, but simply by speaking up, as you have, you’re making a difference. We have a long way to go, but awareness is the first step.

  12. Not so sure I can answer the “dreams” question but I can answer the one about being an example of getting through a journey.
    Even though I am not at the end of mine with my boys, in the autism community there are many stages that we have to go through. Kind of a been there, done that and survived kind of thing. While I now look for the parents of high schoolers or college age kids to show me that I will survive these upcoming teen years, I have parents of newly diagnosed children wanting to know how I have made it to the teen years or even through potty training these special kids.
    In a way I was kind of my own example when Seth was diagnosed 8 years after his brothers were. Seth’s diagnosis wasn’t the big deal it had been when the twins were diagnosed. I wasn’t devastated. I knew what I was doing and didn’t have to go home and read all the books and wade through all the quack cures and Google this and that.
    I am glad I can help the other parents see that they will survive, they will make it past these stages and it’s not the end of the world.

    • I was minding my own business here, reading my weekly *vacation for my mind* with Grace….and Sarah goes and talks about being an example for an autism journey. Well, I am an example of an successful autism journey, Sarah. My oldest son is 34 and has autism. Eventho my son is not cured and lower on the spectrum, he’s a wonderful person, has skills and is loved by his brothers (who both are very accomplished–one’s a physicist and the other is in the early stages of being a concert pianist). I was a long-time president of a local chapter of the Autism Society of America and my husband wrote the first children’s book about autism (published in 1992),”Russell is Extra-Special: A Book for Children About Autism” and its new 2011 edition, “Russell’s World: A Book for Kids About Autism”…….and I could digress here and tell you how many rejections we received for the 1992 book…but I won’t.

      We all have dreams for our children and when one–or more– of our children has challenges, those dreams have to change. And change is healthy!

      Getting back to Grace’s question, as I was reading others responses, I suppose I was struggling. Having a child with a disability makes you look at dreams in a different way. Do I support others close to me in their dreams? Yes, I do. And one of those dreams we have in my family is to have a *normal life*, whatever that means. In our family, we encouraged and nurtured our other sons interests and talents, had a least one date a month for us a couple and decided if Russ had autism, he was going to be the best and happiest darn person with autism we could make him. Was it easy to accomplish those things? Not always. And do we HAVE a normal life? To outsiders, probably not, but to us, it IS normal. Russ is happy and our other kids are mostly doing well. My husband has a career he loves and I am working in my profession in ways I never imagined I’d be able to, having a child with a disability. And Sarah, I’ve written a companion book to my husband’s, a book of essays about raising a child with autism…..now let’s see if MY dream can come true!

      • That lesson, that dreams change, and change is good, seems to be one we need to keep handy. I recently read an article written by a doctor about how we view death. He had a friend in the hospital, facing a miserable end, and somebody had the sense to ask her, “What would your best day be now?”

        She wanted to keep teaching piano as long as she could, so a hospice team made that happen. To teach a few kids the old Clementi Sonatinas was probably never one of her dreams… until that was the last, most important dream she could make come true.

        My mom’s dream now, at age 90, is to be useful to somebody every day. I hope I choose my dreams as wisely, if I live to be her age.

        And with regard to your essays, please email me if you have any questions about either traditional publishing or self publishing. It has NEVER been easier to get your writing where readers can find it.

      • Teenie Marie, Thank you for your response. I loved that you touched on trying to keep your other children’s lives as “normal” as possible. This is something I am struggling with with my 9 year old, who is smack dab in the middle with older brothers with autism and a younger brother with autism. He isn’t interested in any extracurricular activities and believe me I ask him all the time and show him fliers and things online. He is one smart boy, but struggling with a few things in school.
        Another thing I liked was that you said was that you wanted your son to be the happiest he could be and that is what we want for our boys as well. I could go on forever about that, but I won’t.
        I hope your book gets published. I think there is a market out there for stories about raising these special kids and coming out fine on the other end. If they are anything like my experiences thus far I am sure there are some very funny moments as well as some very frustrating ones.
        Thank you again for you encouragement.

    • You have probably saved entire families and not known it, Sarah. I’ve seen trained foster parents with advanced degrees in mental health brought low by ONE foster kid with autism spectrum issues. From the outside looking in, success in those situations seems to be about a tireless sort of love, emphasis on the tireless. I’m glad the other parents have you to talk to, but I sure wish your load was lighter, too.

  13. I would like to think that somewhere in my 35 years of teaching I was encouraging to some of my students but as I’ve been retired for awhile now I can’t remember a specific incident.

    • Jackie, you KNOW you’ve inspired dreams if you’ve been in the classroom that long. For the kids, for the other teachers, for the parents, for the administration. Teachers are special, special people and we don’t tell them that often enough!

  14. My kids both want to change the world in their own way. My son through medical research. My daughter through helping others on a more personal level – she want to join the Peace Corp and work in other countries maybe as a teacher maybe as something closer to a cultural liaison (an idea given by her Anthropology professor). While the idea of her being in another country long term – possibly not a safe one for an American female – terrifies me I have to sit back and let her work through what she wants to do. I also have to attempt to curb her father’s desire to convince her to go into a field where she will make enough money to be comfortable.

    It’s a work in progress. We’ll start slow with finding a way for her to study abroad and move on from there.

    • Glenda, we can be nervous moms together. My daughter is majoring in international relations, and she’s begun muttering about studying abroad. One of my nephews is teaching international relations in Sweden, and his example reassures me: He still comes home for Christmas, and he’s still just a phone call away.

      But geesh… we raised them to be independent and part of the solution. What were we thinking?!

  15. At age 39 I learned to drive. I was afraid to drive. I still am.
    This morning as I drove into work it was dark and foggy. But learning to drive opened up my world in some amazing ways and greatly improved the quality of my life. I still do a lot of praying in the car. My current goal is to go to graduate school at age 50. I am excited about the path I am on. I think just telling other people about your challenges can inspire others.

    • I used to love to drive… now I love to drive across New Mexico in broad daylight when the weather report assures me I won’t face any snow storms.

      As for city driving, or cutting a new trail… not so much any more. I hope you DO go to graduate school, though. My sister just got her Phd at age 65, and I’m warming up to pursue an MFA in my late fifties. Education is NEVER wasted, and any more, we need to PLAN to live to a hundred.

      We do too.

  16. Dear Grace, you sound so surprised that we were rapt by your speeches. I missed the first one as I was in another session, But the last one was so motivating. My writing career didn’t turn serious until later in life. I felt I was too late to make a name for myself. I embraced your words. Maybe there is still a chance for me. Keep critiquing to teach us how to improve. Keep teaching to help us find the path. Keep being you, so open and giving. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Barb. That was a lovely conference. My observation is that now, when I can zero in on the writing, I’m much more likely to get somewhere with it. Earlier in life the day job, the relationships, the kid, the lack of self-confidence, the lack of life-smarts would all have interfered with the writing dream.

      Now, I don’t let anybody mess with me for long, I know what I want, and I’m more savvy about how to manage myself.

      You’ll get there. Keep writing, keep buffing the craft. There’s room for everybody on this bus.

    • My readers are the best people! Susan Elizabeth Phillips is on a cruise right now with her readers. That sounds like a fabulous time to me, except I’d want to cruise the coast of Scotland with my readers…

    • Interesting, BN, that we’ve heard about guarding our children’s dreams, our husband’s, our co-workers, our students… you’re the first person to mention mom.

      Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

      Wow.

  17. I think it is important to remember that each day we touch someone as they strive for their dreams – whether it be our own children or if we are teachers – the children we see every day at school.
    and for sure at 60 my dreams are not the same as they were when i was 30 ( well maybe that house at the beach is the same) but
    i think we should all keep some goal in front of ourselves – it makes us better able to assist others as they strive for their goals.

    I have nothing but praise for those moms who face difficult challenges with children who have special needs – but i must say that i think every mom who supports her children in their dreams is helping to fulfill one of her own dreams – that of raising a happy and well adjusted child — well maybe mine will be well adjusted if they ever get out of college !

    • I hear you Nancy. The Prodigy is at her fifth post high school institution, and we’re coming up on half way to the bachelor’s degree. I realize though, that for where she is, some other life lessons are more pressing now, and she’s tackling those whole-heartedly.

      I bounced out of college at age 21 with two bachelor’s degrees, and in some ways I was still dumber than the proverbial box o’ rocks. My daughter is taking a different path than I did, but she’ll be wiser for it.