It’s funny sometimes how we circle back to what we initially wanted to be. When I was a little girl, growing up on our family farm, I wanted to be an author. I have no idea how I came up with that career goal. It was probably because I loved books and I loved reading. I didn’t really have children’s books, but I had the school library. Also, every week my classmates and I would get the Weekly Reader, an order form filled with pictures and descriptions of books we could buy. I was allowed to purchase only one or two and this created some anxiety akin to deciding between a cookie or a piece of gum. Poring over every book’s review, I wrung my hands over which I would choose. I took the form home with me and studied it on the school bus. Finally, I checked the little boxes next to the books I wanted to order, and impatiently awaited their arrival to my classroom. My favorite children’s books were, “A Little Princess” and “Charlotte’s Web.”
Soon, I started reading my mom’s books. She belonged to the Book of the Month Club, her version of the Weekly Reader. Growing up, we didn’t have many options for television and of course, there were no computers or smartphones. I lived on a farm with three brothers and not a lot of friends nearby, so I read. I read books like “Trinity,” “Dr. Zhivago,” and “Gone with The Wind.” I loved the thick, historical sagas of James Michener. I even read some racy books like “The Graduate.” When I read these books, I was transported to pre-revolutionary Russia or the antebellum South, or 19th century Ireland.
I started writing stories. My mom saved them in her jewelry box. I kept journals that held my private thoughts, wishes and self-judgments. When I got to college and took the required, first English course, I didn’t do that well. In a humiliating moment, my English professor used my paper as an example to all her other classes as what mistakes to avoid when writing. She later apologized. I learned from her though.
I kept writing. I had forgotten that I wanted to be an author, but I wrote almost every morning for years and years – more to help me figure things out than anything else. I accumulated boxes of journals. Later, I joined a writer’s group. I was embarrassed again by one of the members of my group, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Program who criticized my blog. I stayed in the group. I was learning from him.
In the meantime, I co-founded, successfully ran and exited two companies. I got married. Got divorced. Raised four children. I read the favorite books of my children so I would know what was inspiring them, where they were being transported. I loved all the Harry Potter books, “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Giver,” “Holes,” and “Youth in Revolt.”
My life went on. I was creating new stories to write.
When I started my third company, Bloomers, of course I wanted to write stories. I had a mission and I knew I could reach many more parents, teachers, and children if I had a book. I wrote about my Bloomers who were based on my children so I had endless fodder for my stories. I wrote over the next six years, oh, about 120 stories featuring the Bloomers.
I tried to find a publisher or even an agent. There was a friend of my close friend, whose Mother was an important literary agent in New York. I approached him with some of my stories. He said he would have to read them first before he passed them along to his mother. Two weeks later I called him back. With a big sigh, he told me that he was dreading my call. He said that he couldn’t pass along my stories to his mother… something about it being a waste of her time. My stories and my writing wasn’t good. I wasn’t a writer. For a moment, I believed him. That was my low point.
I went into my garage and opened a box of my journals and looked inside. Neatly stacked were 9 x 12 sketchbooks bound with black leather, containing unlined, white paper with page after page of cursive writing, some entries neater than others, some accompanied by little notes and drawings in the margins, some written inside the front and back covers. I opened one book to a random page and read it. It was good.
After much contemplation and introspection, I thought, I’ve been writing my whole life. No one can tell me I’m not a writer.
To use an expression from down on the farm, there’s more than one way to shoe a horse. I kept writing to be sure, but I switched my focus to building the Bloomers brand. Then, after inventing some really cool products and getting into over 5,000 stores, being awarded patents and signing licensees, establishing credibility by working many years in schools and presenting at conferences, I was approached by a respected New York Publisher. They said they had started a children’s imprint and wanted me to write a Bloomers book for them. They said it would be perfect for their company. I negotiated a multi-book deal.
Someone recently asked me how long it took to write my first book. I said that It didn’t take me long, it wasn’t “War and Peace” after all, it was a children’s book. But that’s not true. It took me my whole life to write that book. I had already written it a thousand times in my mind, in my journals. I had written it in 120 different stories that I was able to draw upon. I wrote it when I was seven and working in our family’s garden. I wrote it when the guy from Iowa was criticizing me… when the friend of my friend told me I wasn’t a writer.
Last month after my book was released, I told my previously mentioned close friend what had happened with her friend, what he had said to me. She was appalled and had no idea. I said, “I’d like to call him now and tell him that I got my first book published.” Admittedly, it was an I told you so moment. I just wanted him to know.
She said, “He’s dead.”
I was dumbfounded. She continued to tell me that he had died a couple years ago. Unexpectedly.
I felt very small.
In the end, I realized that it doesn’t really matter what other people say. It doesn’t matter if you know what you want to be or when you know. I changed my mind ten times in between the age of seven and now: a veterinarian, an economist, an investment banker, an entrepreneur, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker. What does matter is when you figure it out, that you keep pursuing it. Don’t take no for an answer. Figure out a work around. Know that there’s no right way to accomplish something. Be creative. Keep practicing. Don’t take rejection personally. Persevere!
Now if someone asks me what I do, I say that I’m a children’s book author.
What do you want to be when you grow up?