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.


  1. "No matter how long you believe it will take to reach your goals, it will take longer." Thank you, Holly! Those words resonate through every fiber of my soul! I'm so old that when I was a kid, my dream was to appear on Johnny Carson's Tonight show to discuss my Great American Novel. And here I am umpteen years later, still clinging to hope! Thanks for making me feel maybe I'm not crazy (or, at least, not for that particular reason). Can't wait for your new novels to come out!!

  2. It's hard to watch that clock tick, but it IS ticking--whether you are pursuing a dream or not. So, might as well pursue the dream!

  3. Wow. You really went for it, and you didn't quit. Thanks for being an inspiration. I think there's a lot of really talented people out there, but a lot of the process is about perseverance as well, and a lot of success is about whether you decided to quit or not. And like Jody said, we live our life everyday it can either be in the pursuit of our dreams or it can be in a place where we have decided they will never happen.

    1. So true, Julia. No one is ever going to just hand you your dreams. You've got to refuse to let go of the things you want the most...


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