Most of us have struggled with the thought, If I had it to do over again, would I have… Maybe you’ve questioned a major decision you made regarding a relationship or a big purchase or a career choice. Recently I had a moment when that question flashed through my mind. A woman in her early twenties shyly approached me. I’d finished a library presentation geared toward middle schoolers, so I wondered if she was a new teacher. It took her a while, but she finally asked her question. She was considering a writing career and wanted to know my thoughts.
My thoughts swirled around as I considered my reply. “I was about your age when I first started writing,” I began. “If I had known how much time I’d devote to it, the sacrifices I’d make, and the frustrations I’d endure, I might have hidden all my writing devices.”
Immediately after those words were out of my mouth, though, I backtracked, “Writing has brought me many experiences I would never have had.” I recalled getting to speak at the University of Toledo after the publication of Whinny of the Wild Horses. Three hundred some people attended and afterward there was a long line for my autograph.
I also recalled my humiliating presentation at the Madison’s Book Fest that same year. I was third on the schedule. A juggler enthralled a large crowd as he kept seven rings in the air and talked about how he’d learned his skill through books. After the juggler, the chief of police, a large man, sat down to read a picture book. Children surrounded him, sitting on his lap or getting as close as they could. They loved it.
When I was introduced, everyone left, except for a mother who had a toddler and baby and had found a seat in the shade. I’m sure the chair in the shade was the only reason she was there. But I gave my talk anyway. Afterward, I heard a man call out, “Tha’th wuz jus’ terrific.” He staggered toward me. I had just poured my heart and soul out to an exhausted mother and a man who was drunk.
Thinking back, it was a blessing my twenty-year-old self hadn’t known all that would come to pass.
The young woman had nodded at my comment about varied experiences and was still patiently waiting for more. “It would be very difficult to support yourself through writing alone,” I said, “and you’ll need a paying job, but if it’s important to you, you’ll find time to do both.” I mentioned my practice of scheduling writing into my day.
“You have to love it,” I added. I thought of a comment made by retired teacher Bev Gaedke who owns a horse ranch on highway 23 in Adams County. She and I were mucking out stalls at the time. I said, “Don’t you ever get tired of doing all of this work?”
She turned to me and wisely said, “It’s not work if you love it.”
The creative side of writing has never been work for me. Dreaming up settings, bringing characters to life, and telling stories has always been fun. (There are aspects of a writing career such as marketing that I do view as work.)
Writing has also allowed me to view success in a different light (it isn’t all about publication), to understand myself better, and to meet many incredible people. I glanced at the young woman, who seemed deep in thought, staring off at an unknown, distant future. When she finally turned to me and thanked me, I asked her to stay in touch. She nodded and waved goodbye. “Best of luck,” I called to her, but she might not have heard since she was already striding forward, eager to start her journey, her choice already shaping her life.