When did you know you were a writer?

From Alaska to a Midwest classroom via Skype.

This month, I have stepped into classrooms all over the U.S. with Microsoft in Education and their cooperative arrangement with Skype. Most mornings have been devoted to reading to kids in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia–and evenings with Greece, Sri Lanka, China, Mexico, Canada, and Japan. I will pause the Skype readings soon, but I’ll pick it up again next year during Literacy Month. 

In the meantime, real, in-person school visits have been keeping me busy. (I just loaded some student letters and artwork onto the pages of my various kids’ books. Please check them out–they’re so heartfelt.) This week, I’m headed to Ketchikan for the Alaska Library Association Conference along with presentations in local schools.

I’ve said it before–there is nothing better for children’s books authors than reading to and taking questions from kids. I love their feedback, yes (they make me feel like a rock star), but I want them to know something else: I never planned to become an author.

My journey began with a love of reading and a library card that was well-used every summer, all summer long. Writing assignments were not drudgery, so that was a clue. But high school was followed by marriage and babies, and full-time work (as a newspaper ad-taker, then secretary in an advertising department of a national company). By age twenty-five, when I entered college, I planned to study in the journalism program’s advertising arm. Then I got the surprise of my young life: I took the required “Newswriting 101” class . . . and excelled. I didn’t know I could do that. My professor counseled me, “Do this, not that.” And so I focused on the people stories, writing newspaper features and lengthy magazine pieces in the years that followed. Writing and editing books was the next natural step.

No, I couldn’t have planned that. I didn’t set a goal and chase after it. I just did what I liked, what I discovered I could do well. So when I’m asked, as I always am during school visits, “When did you know that you were going to be a writer?” the truthful answer is, “I really didn’t know until I was doing it.” But more importantly, I tell them that they don’t have to wait until they’re grown up (or have published a book, or earned a degree) to say, “I am a writer.”

Declare it, then do it. And, best of all, enjoy it.

Thank you, sweet child.

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