Monday, May 16, 2011

Becoming Myself

Living in New York has changed me. Every season of my life, and every state I’ve lived in, has contributed to the person I am today, but New York has caused some of the biggest changes of all. When I moved to this state, almost five years ago, I knew I loved to write, but I didn’t yet think of myself as a writer. This is the place that changed all that.

When the moving truck arrived at this address, I had a quiet project tucked into the hard drive on our family computer. Right after I had my amputation surgery, I began writing about it. I had lots of sitting time, as my residual limb healed, and I decided to write out the journey that led me to this new title of amputee. By the time I got to New York I had pecked out a significant manuscript. Significant in size, not necessarily in quality. I knew it needed a lot of tweaking but it was nice to have a starting point. But because it wasn’t even close to being published, it didn’t even cross my mind that I might be a ‘writer’.

Sure, I’d always kept a journal, even when I was a ten year old and had little to say beyond ‘cleaned my room today…’. Then, when the kids were small, I pecked out essays about what they were doing, what we were doing, and how I felt about it all. After my mom died I wrote more, trying to hash out my grief with words on a screen. But I was always fully aware that to be a real writer, you had to have a book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.

Then one day, early on in our time in New York, my son got off the bus bubbling with news about an author who had visited his school.“She was just like you, mama! She loves to write and she loves kids!” I looked her up and found a website. Something in her presentation had lit a spark in my boy and I wanted her to know it. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply to my email, just a few days later.

The author, Coleen Paratore, was gracious and warm. She had come to Sam’s school to talk about her new book The Wedding Planner’s Daughter. But her school talks were as much about finding your own passion as they were about promoting her latest book.

She encouraged me to attend the local meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It met nearby, in Guilderland, and anyone who loved children’s books was welcome to attend. It piqued my interest. I’d never really written for children, but the idea of hanging out with writers sounded fun. The night of their next meeting I made my way to the Guilderland library and walked into a room full of strangers.

To begin the meeting, everyone went around the room and shared their connection to writing and children’s books. It was amazing to hear each person’s journey. Some were published authors, many times over, and some were still learning the craft and writing when they could find the time. Being new to the state, and knowing very few people well enough to call them ‘friend’, I felt unusually at home in that room.

These were people who didn’t think it was strange that I had files full of half finished projects. These were people who also had scraps of paper all over the house, bits and pieces of words and phrases that would later remind them of some writing idea. These were people who knew how painful it was to carve out a manuscript of heartfelt stories, then have to go back and cut it down. That night I returned home and announced to my husband, “I have found my people!”

Through that meeting, and the many meetings since, I’ve been inspired, watching these new writer friends follow their own paths. Some have become published in the four years I’ve been attending, some are still plugging away. Coleen has become a writing powerhouse, publishing a handful of books in the short time I’ve known her. Even when I’m not working on a project for kids, my friends at the SCBWI writers group remind me of how important it is to claim what’s important to me, and keep writing.

Not long after I found my people, at the SCBWI writer’s group, I landed an incredible gig, writing the parenting column for the local paper. Every week I think I’ve run out of ideas to write about and yet every week another one finds its way to my computer screen. It’s been a gift to me, tracking our life and all its ups and downs, as we’ve explored this great state of New York. It has given me a valuable deadline every week, one of a writer’s best friends.

And there you have it.

I just officially called myself a writer.

It took many years, a lot of concealed writing, and a well placed encouraging email from a published book author to help me find my path.

There’s a room full of people who will continue to meet, month after month, long after I’ve moved away. They will encourage each other and helpfully critique each other’s work. They will say good bye to members who are moving on and they’ll warmly accept the newbies who wander through the door. I’ll always be in debt to these people, my people.

They helped me to define myself as a writer.

And I’ll never forget them.



eluper said...

Great blog post, Judy. It's been great getting to know you as well. The great news is that we never have to truly say goodbye. Blogs, emails and listservs will keep us in touch for sure! Best of luck with your move.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. It feels good to say it doesn't it? And strange. And terrifying. And yet you are still waiting for the title police to round the corner with guns drawn right? I know I still am.

linda marshall said...

Thank you, Judy, for putting into words the gratitude that I, also, feel to the Capital District SCBWI. It's the group that has guided - and supported - me through the journey as I began writing for children. It also keeps me feeling connected to the area, especially now that my children have moved away and my bookstore is closed. How nice to know I'm not alone in my feelings...By the way, I'd always thought you were an old-timer there, a pro. I've valued your input and I hope we will remain connected. Bon voyage and best of luck in your new adventure.

Katie said...

Thanks so much for this post! Just the other day (I think it was because of the Open Door anniversary), I was thinking that there are so many great writers in the area and I wish that I could meet them. And then I thought that I'm really not worthy, yet, anyway. So your post feel like a response from The Universe. I had known once, but forgotten, that the group existed. I'm going to try to gather up my courage and show up to the May meeting. Really, thank you.

Stephen Mooser said...

What a terrific, and moving, post. After 40 years with the SCBWI I continue to be amazed at how this organization has changed so many lives. It's always thrilling to hear about someone's first sale, but nothing ever tops reading about someone finding community and friendship--the good news is that it happens every day, many times over.

kcelken said...

Judy, what a wonderful post. I just want you to know "your people" will miss you, too! I wish I could make Monday's meeting to see you, but I will be in UT. Please hold in your heart always my thanks for the energy and enthusiasm you gave to me and my writing. Best of luck in your new home and in your future writing.

NanC said...

You are definitely one of the people, Judy! I know our SCBWI community here will miss you greatly, but I also know that you will find another great SCBWI community where you relocate. We wish you happiness and look forward to keeping in touch!

toyfoto said...

You will still be writing, right? If that's the case we never really have to say goodbye.