Do you ever get the feeling the universe is talking to you? More than just a little whisper in your ear. More than a well-placed sign that may or may not represent something significant. More like a let’s-sit-down-together-and-have-a-serious-chat situation.
Let’s just say the universe has placed a hand on both sides of my head and is demanding some eye contact from me.
It’s more than a little uncomfortable.
Which is how I know the universe may be right. I’m never sorry when I push myself to do the thing that I’m (a healthy amount of) terrified to do.
First, a little backstory. My writing life has always consisted of two complementary (and competing) halves: my fiction writing self and my professional writing self. It’s been a constant battle between two writing identities that are equally compelling and the exact kind of thinking work that demand and inspire my most cognitively and emotionally engaged self (in completely different ways).
Over the years, my writing priorities have ebbed and flowed—sometimes I’m dedicating more time to my YA novel, SCBWI events, and working with a critique partner, and other times (like recently), I’m investing more writing time in blogging, connecting with other educational writers, and my (secret) professional book proposal that is still far too far from seeing the light of day.
Well, the universe has just snapped its fingers to get my attention.
Last month, I came around the corner in the exhibit hall at NCTE and ran right into the top of my bucket list: Vermont College of Fine Arts with their low residency MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Imagine this: two weeks a year in Vermont learning from and beside the best children’s book writers, the rest of the year writing, studying writing craft, and getting personalized feedback from a mentor. As someone driven to improve my own writing, this scenario is dreamy dreamy dreamy. (So not something I think I can do right now.)
[Cue metaphorical clatter of overly full bucket tumbling end over end, limbs flailing (and failing to catch it), writer wipeout in the aisle. Total yard sale.]
I think the first thing out of my mouth was, “This is on my bucket list!” (Impressive, I know.) I am not a stop-and-talk-to-exhibitors kind of conference attendee, but I could not just walk away.
The conversation I had with the program director at VCFA left me with a serious case of dissonance. My professional writing is beginning to gain some traction. I’m making connections with other educators with similar goals for blogging and publishing. Professional writing is so much more practical, right? I don’t have time to work full time (in the intense way that I do) and pursue professional writing AND pursue fiction writing, do I? I already feel as though I don’t have enough time to make the headway I am trying to make. So many balls in the air. If I start too many things, I’ll never finish! And yet. . .
I believe in saying yes to open windows. Every open window, because who knows which window will be THE window.
Since NCTE, I’ve begun corresponding with an alumna from VCFA about the program and I cannot stop thinking about it. The thought of investing in my fiction writing, of really treating this dream as a career and carving out the opportunity to study writing and to work side by side with a mentor and community of writers—I can’t think of anything I want to do more than that. If I didn’t have to be practical at all, if I could just choose, I would choose VCFA.
The bigger question, I’m realizing, is whether or not I believe I can—and whether this dream is worthy of the investment it will require.
I wonder—and I don’t know if this wonder is coming from me or from what I think others might think: Is this just an excuse to change course, to abandon something hard (professional writing) for the new and shiny? Would I be changing direction at the exact wrong moment, when I’m beginning to experience some success?
Do I have to make a choice? (I feel as though I do.)
If I’m being honest, my biggest fear is not ever achieving either writing dream because I’m so busy being a work-a-holic at teaching/coaching and not investing enough time and energy into either of my writing selves. (That was a little hard to write and see staring back at me on the page. . . I’m going to leave it though, because it’s true.)
Something else I’ve learned, is that sometimes saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. If I say yes to this, what might I be saying no to?
Case in point: In 2016, when I agreed to chair the 2018 CCIRA Conference, I knew the volunteer position would be all consuming, and all consuming for at least four years—the length of tenure in the presidential line. I knew that signing on for that incredible opportunity would mean putting my fiction writing on a shelf.
So I did. And in so many ways, it was completely worth the sacrifice. I would say yes again in a heartbeat, based on everything I learned and was fortunate enough to be able to do in that role.
And yet. . .
Flashing back to the closing keynote of the 2018 CCIRA Conference. . . author Linda Urban spoke about her own writing journey—specifically, those times when she has been tuned in to her secret writing heart and the times she has denied it. So powerful. So authentic.
It was as if she were talking directly to me.
I totally broke down—partly, I’m sure, out of sheer exhaustion—but also because I had this moment of clarity, recognizing how I had put my own writer self aside for almost two years to focus on the conference. It was this crushing realization of how much I missed writing fiction (and writing for myself).
This switch just flipped, illuminating the cavernous absence of writing inside me (quickly filling up with tears). A wave of relief: I would have time to write again!
Afterward—once I had regained the power to speak—I had a chance to talk with Linda a bit, and it felt so good to think and say out loud what I had been missing and what I need as a creative person to feel like myself.
I need to write.
Linda was lovely, and she understood in a way that only a writer could possibly understand. She encouraged me to keep writing, to not be embarrassed by my emotional reaction but to listen to what was underneath it.
To bring the story full circle, Linda Urban is on faculty at VCFA in their MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults (because, of course she is). I did not know this when I invited her to speak at the conference, or when I scheduled her as the closing keynote. I didn’t know that the topic of her keynote would resonate with me in the way that it did—that it would be exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the moment I needed to hear it.
None of those things are a coincidence.
The universe is clearly trying to tell me something. . . And it may be getting a little annoyed at having to repeat itself.