Monday, December 6, 2010

You mean I can be a writer when I grow up?

I can still remember the wonder I felt as a child when a grown up bent closer, smiled, and asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It felt as though the universe expanded to hold all the possibilities. I believed that I could be anything I wanted to be.

But what would I choose? When I was very young, there was never only one answer. I wanted to be a ballerina and a teacher. And, of course, a mother. We always had to add that to the list. It wasn’t until Mrs. Crawford, my third grade teacher, asked me if I considered being a writer when I grew up because she enjoyed my stories. My mouth slipped open in a gasp. That was a job? I didn’t know I could grow up to be a writer! It was a revelation. I’d written stories and songs for as long as I could remember. It was as much a part of my life as breathing. From that moment on, I knew that one day I would be a writer when I grew up. (Okay, and a ballerina.) By sixteen, however, I was getting so nauseated when I pirouetted across the floor on point that sometimes I had to throw up. Clearly, I was never going to be a professional dancer. But I still loved writing.

As an adult, I was told to put away my childish dreams and to pursue a realistic, “grown up” job. I graduated from college, got an MA in education and began teaching school. I honestly loved teaching. It’s a challenging career filled with creativity and rewards. Yet I never gave up writing. During that time I wrote some non fiction, an English text book series, but I still dreamed of writing a novel. I wanted to create story worlds, characters, plots.

In a stroke of irony, it was a child that gave me back my childhood dream. During my third pregnancy the doctor ordered me to bed rest for the final four months. At first I was devastated. I had to give up control over my home and my children to others, difficult for a control freak. As I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself, my darling husband moved the TV out of my bedroom, gave me a legal pad and a pencil, and then told me, “For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve wanted to write a novel but didn’t have the time. Now you have the time.”

That was a defining moment. Only in retrospect can I see that what had at first seemed like an obstacle turned out to be a gift. I also realized it wasn't just a question of time, but of courage. While I lay on my back for those long months, I wrote and wrote. (Proof you don’t need a big office.) At the end of the pregnancy, I gave birth to a baby and a book. My son was perfect…my book needed work. But the dream of being a writer, a desire that had been lying dormant, was alive again. I joined a writer’s group and continued writing and rewriting until, at long last, my first novel sold.  It was titled The Long Road Home (we jokingly call it The Long Road to Published).  It was released again last November for the first time since it was published in 1995. Talk about coming full circle.

Since then I’ve written over a dozen novels and god willing will write at least a dozen more. Now I am a grown up and a writer. (And, a mother.) I like to think I have the curiosity of the young child I once was and the wisdom of the older woman I have become. I know I’m blessed to have realized my dream of being a writer and I never take it for granted. In turn, I’ve taught my children to believe in their dreams and that what at first appears to be a defeat may in fact be an opportunity.

So, if you’re reading this and you always wanted to be a writer when you grew up… take the TV out of your room, grab a legal pad and pencil, or a computer, or heck, a crayon if that is all you have, and write! This Christmas, give yourself the gift of time. Who knows? Your dream of being a writer can still come true!


Anna Michaels said...

Your post is filled with the same hopeful outlook as your lovely novels, Mary Alice, and particularly appropriate for the season.

Peggy Webb said...

You write lyrics, too? Though I sing soprano in a church choir and play all kinds of music at my baby grand (not professionaly but for my own entertainment), I usually write blues lyrics. What about you?

Mary Alice said...

Hi Peggy,
The only lyrics that have survived are the ones I wrote to songs I sang to my children! Not much of a legacy...but it is poignant to hear MY daughter sing my songs to HER child!

Marybeth said...

Loved this post Mary Alice!

The other day my 16yo daughter put the following on her Facebook status:

so proud of my mama, Marybeth Whalen. she's taught me lately to never give up on my dreams (: i love you maa♥

She had no idea how much that meant to me, as it is one of my goals as a mom to inspire my children to chase after their dreams by them seeing me chase after mine. I've never said this to her, and yet she has picked up on it.

Most of the time as a mother I wander around wondering if I am doing this right... and then every so often I get a glimpse that maybe I'm not completely ruining them. This was one of those times!

Your post captured that sentiment so well. Thanks!

Pam said...

Loved your post : )