Here I am, the day I got my master’s in ’01:
I’d already decided, on this day, to devote myself full-time to my writing. And I honestly, honestly, had no idea what I was going to be up against. None. All I knew was that I’d already had some short pieces (fiction, poetry, literary critique) accepted in journals. I’d gotten praise for my stories since I was a little girl. I thought I’d spend a year or so writing a novel, it’d sell, and I’d have money in the bank and my career off the ground.
Yeah. I know. It makes me laugh, too, to think about it now.
Looking back, the girl in this picture was completely unprepared to be a full-time professional writer. My degree did nothing to teach me about writing fiction professionally (I don’t mean anything against my university—I don’t honestly believe any degree really prepares anyone for their profession, not like the trenches do). I had written one long piece, and revised very little. I had yet to figure out who I was on the page.
I stayed home, let Mom feed me while I worked on novel after novel. After novel. Most of the time, I felt as though the music lessons I taught in the afternoons paid for very little other than the massive amounts of postage I was racking up from submitting manuscripts.
And the worst part of the whole thing was that I had this marker that rang out a gong: graduation day. I knew exactly when my pursuit of a book-length publication started. May 19, 2001. The day after this picture was taken. Every year, when graduation day rolled back around, caps and gowns would parade across my TV screen, and I would feel—well—like a total dipstick. Each year, I felt a little worse. (Year four was particularly harsh—it was a make-or-break moment, when I had to ask myself, “Am I really going to keep doing this?” And for a girl who never wanted to do anything but write, that was pretty darn bad.)
But I wound up pressing forward. In all, I would have to watch seven graduation days (and eight additional months) go by before I finally got my first yes. And I’m so, so, so, so glad I stuck with it. I cannot honestly imagine a life not writing. It fulfills me like nothing else.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the worst thing you can ever do in life is watch the clock (or calendar). Life happens on your schedule—not anyone else’s. And no matter how long you imagine it will take to reach your goals, it will take longer. Strap yourself in for a long haul, dig your nails in, and for God’s sake, don’t let go.