Sunday, January 11, 2009

Realistic Writing Goals

Someone on my favorite discussion board just announced her book deal, heralding the fact that not only will she finally be published, but she made her goal of being published in her 20's. While I wish her the most sincere congratulations, I must admit that I bristled at that last bit. No offense, kiddo, but when you parade your youth out there with your writing success for a bunch of old ladies like me, it dampens our impulse to rejoice and send you hearty congratulations. Now in all fairness to this writer, she says she has been working towards this for 9 years, which is perfectly in line with the average experience. And certainly, there are plenty of young, talented writers being published every day.

I realize that my own insecurities come into play here, not to mention my own regrets. Sure, when I was in junior and senior high school, I daydreamed about becoming a writer. Then, as it so often does, life got in the way. I decided to teach, which I dearly loved and don't regret a moment of it. But as an English teacher with 135-150 students at a time, writing was pretty much out of the question, accept during summer holidays. But summers just lacked momentum (yeah I'll write an entire, flawless novel in 2 months...and do all the legwork to get it published!). And for the first 3 years after my son was born, I continued to teach...absolutely no chance of finding time—or energy—to write. So it wasn't until my daughter was born, and I officially became a SAHM in her late thirties, that I started to build that dream.

Now there's that other peske part of the fantasy...write a book and get published instantly. that covered! Eight years later I'm standing on the brink, ready for that book deal (and it is coming...any day now). Yes, I'll admit it...I won't be in my twenties...I'll be in my forties. And you know what? That's really okay. My goal was to write good books. I'm not sure if I would have done that in my idealist twenties, or even my distracted thirties.

I guess my writing goals have evolved over the years. The timeline has become meaningless. The craft, the drive of the narrative, the details of the business itself—all of this has become the force behind my writing. There are still plenty of distractions that make it difficult to write: waiting to sell this blasted house while my husband lives and works 5 states away, trying to help my children cope with eternally temporary separation, organizing a large writer's conference...plenty to keep my busy.

I don't begrudge anyone their goals. Just pardon me if I wince a little. Do I regret not really writing in my twenty's? Sometimes. But then, I don't think I would have written the book I just wrote. So I guess for me the real distinction is in having written a good book, and I hope I've done that. So, I'll not regret the fact that I didn't manage to break the age barrier. Besides...that's been done already.


  1. Hey Mary Ann. It was the same for me. It took me years to remind myself I ever wanted to be a writer. I can't believe I let myself forget.

    And even though I didn't start writing until I was in my thirties, I still feel a little pang when I hear of those 20 somethings being so successful. I'm not envious. No, it's more a feeling of wasted time.

    But I'm making the most of it now. To be honest, I don't think my 20 year-old self could have handled things like critiques and rejections, so I'm better off for waiting.

  2. Well ... some of us had other careers before we started writing (I was a scientist for 15 years and then a stay-at-home mom), so it wouldn't have been realistic. I think Jen is the only one who is actively pursuing her PhD and writing. I don't think she sleeps :)

    I really do admire these young folks (esp. my own young students) who are doing what they love to do and have known it since they were kids.

    And I admire my older students, too. Some of them are in their 60s and 70s and are just beginning. They are following their dreams and loving it. They all inspire me.

    I always thought I'd be a writer after I had lived a full life and was a grandmother :) Imagine my surprise when I felt called to write when I became a mother.

    You are working at your dreams, Mary Ann, and that's what's important, no matter what the age.

  3. I felt a little envious well, Mary Ann. I've always known I wanted to write but when I was younger I also had to support myself - pay the rent, my car insurance, put food on my table, etc. I needed a job that would pay me a living salary and unfortunately I didn't have anybody supporting me financially to allow me to actively pursue my dreams. I know that some of the successful younger writers are married to people who support them financially, which is great. It just wasn't the way my life worked out.

    The important thing is that you're pursuing your dreams now. And look, you're almost there and you're still fairly young. Haven't you heard? Forty is the new 30 (or something like that). And aren't you glad you have a family who'll be there to share in your joy when you finally do achieve them?


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