A week ago yesterday, my best friend gave me an early birthday surprise as a burst of inspiration to help me close out National Novel Writing Month. I was happily stunned by the email that informed me I was gifted a masterclass with bestselling children’s author Judy Blume. What could be cooler than taking a class from one of the first authors to inspire me to become a writer in the first place? I don’t think my friend realized just how perfect her gift to me was until I expressed how much Blume’s characters spoke to me when I was a child.
Today, as I listened to the introduction of my class with Judy Blume, I felt the synchronicity of this experience happening now even more. It so easily could have been a letter from 11-year-old me that Blume reads at the opening of the first lesson. Judy, whom I hope doesn’t take offense for addressing by her first name, recites part of a letter she received from a 13-year-old fan: “I think the main point of kids’ books is to show that things that happened to you also happened to other kids…I thought I was weird for doing and thinking some things, but your books make feel [normal].”
Characters like Peter and “Fudge” Hatcher from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and from Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series spoke directly to my young reader heart. To this day, there are memories I have of childhood that I’m still uncertain as to whether actually happened to me or were instead experiences that favorite book protagonists, like Ramona Quimby, live through. That’s the magic of writing that spoke to me so keenly as a young child.
That power of the written word led me to decide, while still in elementary school, to be an *author* when I grew up. It amazed me how well an adult writer could understand so perfectly what it was like to be a child with the usual rash of emotions and confusing experiences. The characters in those favorite children’s books were as real to me as the friends I made in my school classroom. I thought to myself: I want to do the same for other readers out there.
So from about age 8 on, I began writing and writing and writing. I wrote from my life experiences, my pure fantasies and from an imagination stoked and nurtured by reading the best books written for children and young adults at that time. I wrote when I was lonely. I wrote as an escape. I wrote when I was excited about what the future had in store for me. I wrote as another form of play and exploration. I wrote to exercise that mighty muscle of my imagination, which was just as important to me as my strong biceps and springy, speedy legs.
Eventually, I was a young adult myself, saddled down with adult ambitions and ‘real world’ practicalities. I attempted to bury the childhood dream behind a communication degree and a career in professional journalism. It is fair to say that I lost my way for several years.
Yet even through my years spent across the country at college, through my first loves and breakups, and later, through seemingly endless years of chronic illness, immersing myself in my writing world always felt like home. Using my words to give voice to my deepest desires and most earnest emotions still felt like the truest thing in my life I could do.
So, here I sit. I am eleven days from turning 40, and I have yet to complete writing a novel of my own. Yet, I sit today after a month of NaNoWriMo, where I consistently worked and played through 27,044 words (a bit more than 90 pages) of the young adult novel that I first started years ago. While I didn’t get quite as far as would have been my ideal, I am proud of the new writing I breathed into life, and I am pleased with the polishing I did of the old. I don’t plan to stop as I skip through the month of December either. I find myself excited and even more optimistic about finally living up to my childhood dream of being a (published) novelist. Let’s do this!