Nearly 30 years ago, I was born on an Air Force Base in Misawa, Japan. I became the first of four children; as such, I think I can safely say that there were many expectations placed on me. Some of them I placed on myself as I got older. But the one that has eluded me thus far, the one that I want the most, is becoming a published author.
As I rapidly approach my 30th birthday, I can't help but reflect on my journey as a writer up to this point. You could certainly say that it has been a ride.
If there is anything that I could say about myself as a child, it's that I've always had a wild imagination. My parents homeschooled me and my younger siblings, and that setting allowed me so much time to nurture my imagination. This manifested in stories, both written and told aloud, that I would share with friends and family. I decided years ago that my dream was to be a published author, and before I began my first year of college, the rate of my manuscript production made it look like I'd get there pretty quickly.
But then, well, college happened. I got the opportunity to meet new people, experience new things. I started acting and singing. I worked in theatre. Wrote a few short plays for my playwrighting class that weren't too shabby. I went to New York City for the first time and experienced my first three Broadway shows. I couldn't devote as much time to writing as I would have liked, and there really wasn't anything that I could do about it; the perfectionist in me wanted those A's and B's, so I had to make the sacrifices.
One thing that I never saw myself doing when I was younger was teaching. Sure, I'd been in children's ministry for years and enjoyed working with them, but teaching? Never crossed my mind. So when I enrolled in a Master of the Arts in Teaching program, I couldn't help but ask myself, "what do you think you're doing?"
I don't think I really knew back then. I needed a steady income if I wanted to support my writing habit; honestly, teaching just made sense. Think of the perks! Summers and holidays off seemed like the perfect situation for me to have more time to write. But as I began to move into the teaching career, I realized that it wasn't as easy as all that.
Summer professional development. Mountains of grades and lesson plans that need to be completed over break. Seemingly never-ending stacks of paperwork that you never feel quite prepared for. By the time I finished with all of these tasks, I didn't want to see anything even remotely related to words.
So writing, again, fell by the wayside.
It honestly wasn't until my second year of teaching when I realized that, if I had a dream, I had to make time for it. There weren't open blocks of time for me to do as I wished, like there were when I was young and unburdened with paying bills and other adult responsibilities. I was going to have to make writing a priority again.
I went out on a limb and decided to clean up the last manuscript I'd completed nearly six years prior, the year I'd graduated high school and began my college career. This I began submitting to publishers and was amazed when I began getting offers to publish my novel. I had confidence in my work, but to hear that other people thought it was good (besides my family and friends) was astounding.
Unfortunately, I almost fell prey to vanity publishers - those publishers who require down-payments from you before beginning the publishing process. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise that I both had little extra money (hello, teacher paycheck) and friends who were immediately suspicious of the offers. So I decided to self-publish instead.
In self-publishing, I learned perhaps one of the most difficult lessons of my life; timing is everything. In my rush to submit my manuscript, I missed errors. The plot wasn't as strong as it could have been. There was a grammar error on the first page, for crying out loud!
My friend, a college professor at the time, had his students read it and give me feedback. It was brutal. What made it worse was that his feedback was true on its own, but I tried writing it off as him being harsher than he needed to be (he very much believes in giving the truth straight up and worrying about feelings later). But seeing these strangers tear my work to shreds was enough of a wake-up call to immediately take the book off of Amazon.
After some time, I went back, listening to the feedback from those students and my two best friends, and re-wrote the whole thing. It's absolutely better now. I do wish that I had just been more patient, saved up some money to get an agent and an editor before just throwing my work out there for all to see, in all its flaws. (The re-written version is free on Wattpad - if you're interested.) There's honestly a part of me that worries my first venture into the publishing world may hamper me in my future efforts.
But it's not going to stop me from trying.
I've written two complete manuscripts since then; the one that has my energy at the moment I finished the first draft in a year - possibly my fastest ever from inspiration to draft, and very different from my previous work. I'm taking my time with this one, really outlining and revising and mapping out everything. I plan to hire an editor and query agents when I'm finished, hopefully before the end of this year (though I'm doing my best not to rush!).
I had thought I'd be a published author by now; clearly, God had other plans. And again, timing really is everything. I've learned so much about myself, others, and the world that I didn't know before. I've met real-life people who inspire my characters and give them that realism that I need. I've watched movies and musicals and plays that give me ideas for my own work. I've become a better writer by teaching my students to write. I've watched my best friend write musicals and movies and children's books and make his own dreams come true.
Now, something is telling me it's time for me to do the same.
I used to look at those writers who didn't find success until they were in their 40s and 50s and think surely I'll be published before I'm 30! ....obviously, the rapidly approaching August is proving me wrong. But it's okay. Timing really is everything. And I'm so grateful that I still have time.