August, 2002. It’s the middle of the night. There is a newborn Gracie sleeping in her swing behind me, because she has a cold and it’s easier for her to breathe and sleep sitting propped up like that. Danni is asleep in her room, getting a good night’s rest; she’s about to start third grade.* My life is made of bottles and diapers and laundry and multiplication tables. Grace’s dad and I were both recently laid off and so have the luxury of sleeping in shifts so that we can each get a full eight hours; I have taken the night shift.
I’ve given up on World News Tonight and am sitting at our faux-Mission-style Kmart desk, staring at the computer screen. I’m 30 years old, and I have recently decided that it’s time for me to start writing again. I’ve realized that writers don’t just spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus, they actually learn how to do it, and they practice. I now have some experience both mentoring and being mentored in other areas of life, and I know that there are people out there who can help me learn how to achieve my goals, people who I can learn the craft from. So I search the web.
First I find Holly Lisle’s website, and join Forward Motion–my first steps into the writing community.
And I find the SFWA website. I read every article they have posted: about writing, about publishing, about the business, about the craft. These are pros I’m reading, the people I want to learn from, and I’m trying to take it all in. I want to know what to expect, and I’m getting that from these articles. It takes me a few nights; when I’m done I go back and read them all again.
Ten years, I say to myself. Ten years seems reasonable. I could be a member in ten years.
Flash forward to 2006, and I’m in my 6×12 office that we’ve built in the garage specifically as a writing space. The room smells heavily of the pumpkin spice fragrance oil I got at Pier 1. I’m positioned at the heavy oak desk we bought at the salvage store. I’ve been to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and have learned how to workshop. I’m on the SFWA site reading Myrtle the Manuscript for what, maybe the fifth time? Because now I’m finally finishing things and sending them out in large manila envelopes with SASEs, and I want to remind myself what I’m in for. I’m eager to collect my first rejection. I plan to frame it and hang it here beside my desk.
Six more years, I think. I’m on my way.
Present day: This morning I made my third professional sale. I am so proud to be a part of this book. It was a difficult story for me to write, because the subject matter is so far outside my comfort zone, and I did it on short notice. I worked very hard, really challenged myself, and it paid off. It’s a very satisfying feeling.
But what rivals that is that today I upgraded my SFWA membership from Associate to Active.
Grace is nine years old now. I gave myself ten years, and I did it in nine.
I’m not sure why this is such a big deal to me. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never set a long-term goal like that before. To say “I will do this thing in ten years” and then keep taking those steps, one day at a time, and wake up one day and find that I’m here, and a year early–I’m proud of myself. I want to hug that 2002 me, and the 2006 me, and the 2008 me that was getting really tired, and the 2010 me that was so sure that first sale was a total fluke and it was never going to happen again.
So if you’re out there trudging, take heart. Every day is bringing you closer to your goal. One foot in front of the other. Keep going.
I reached a milestone today, but the journey ain’t over.
Back to work.
* edited for bad math.