Monday, June 7, 2010

1: Years Ago, A History

This begins a series of posts that I'll be uploading throughout the week. I know it's long. I'm sorry. The others are shorter. But as I end one career to begin another, I'm very reflective about how I got here.

For your first career day at elementary school, you dress as a secretary because you like to type.

Later, you discover that you like to write stories. Your fifth grade teacher reads one of your stories out loud to the whole class, and you beam the entire time. Your sixth grade teacher reads a nonfiction personal narrative essay you wrote, and you hide your secret smile, because she says the description is realistic, but you made it all up even if it was supposed to be nonfiction. You write stories about unicorns and read them to the girl who sits next to you on the bus. Every page is a new chapter. You get to page chapter 10 and think you’ve written a novel.

You want to be a writer, but your teachers and parents say you can’t make money off it, it’s not a real job, so you decide to be a teacher. You’re in sixth grade, and you’ve got your life planned out already: a teacher who writes stories on the side. It doesn’t really occur to you that you can do anything but write on the side.

In high school, you join the literary magazine and write half of it. But you spend more time on your AP classes, because you know you’re going to need a real job.

In college, while you’re an RA and don’t have a roommate who can see you, you start to write a short story that turns out to be a novel. At first you just want to see if you can actually get that many words on a page, but in the end, when you have the whole thing printed in front of you, you realize it’s not that bad.

You send it out to a handful of agents, and you write the sequel.

You make an outline for the third book, but never write it. You discover that outlines kill your stories.

You get rejected. It doesn’t sting—you have already realized the first novel wasn’t that good, and the rejections point you in the direction of where you should go.

Meanwhile, you start your student teaching semester. It’s scary, at first, too look out at a sea of high school student faces and know they expect something of you. But you do it, and to your surprise, you actually kind of like it. You realize this may be the rest of your life.

Your brother dies. It’s sudden, and unexpected, and you hide silently within yourself for awhile. People seem like moving shadows. When strangers get to know you, and ask if you have siblings, you don’t know what to say. The first Christmas is the hardest, because your grandmother dies then, too. It’s not as sudden or unexpected, but it extends the silence.

You’re in grad school now, living alone, too poor to afford television. You spend a lot of time online, between reading Harry Potter forums and reading Miss Snark. You have a sense of pride for reading Miss Snark from the very beginning, and you’re shocked when she ends the blog.

You get an idea. A good one. A really good one. You’re supposed to be writing your Master’s Thesis, but instead, you write a book. You love it hardcore. You “edit” by printing it, fixing the grammar, and adding a few paragraphs.

You send this one out.

This time, the rejections hurt.

You still love the book. You write all the sequels to it, but squirrel them away.

You graduate with your Master’s degree in English literature.

You start looking for a job. You wait a long time to apply. You treat the whole thing casually—you figure teaching jobs are a dime a dozen. You blow off an interview.

The summer starts to end. You start panicking. You need a job. You visit some friends in NY and on the flight back you pray to God that you’ll take the first job offered to you, even if it’s janitorial work.

You have two interviews—one at the dream job in the nice city, one at the bottom of the barrel job in the backwoods of the world. You go to your interview with the backwoods school in your fancy business suit and five inch heels. The assistant principal takes you on a tour of the whole school, including the back fields with the goats. Your heart is breaking a little. You thought you escaped backwood schools and goats. You remember NY, and you think about how publishing’s heart is there. Then you tell your heart to shut up, you need a job.

The backwoods school offers a job the day before the nice city school. You remember your prayer. You take the backwoods school offer.

You rent a duplex. There’s a whole room for your computer. Your stories are tucked away in a nice folder, but you ignore them.

You write lesson plans. At first, everything is too hard—you’re trying to discuss symbolism, and they’re still learning vocabulary. Then everything is too easy—you can’t seem to find the balance.

You’re terrible at teaching. Honestly. A fight breaks out in your room so quickly you’re shocked, and before you know it, desks are thrown and a girl is standing on top of a bookcase screaming. You advice the yearbook, and you don’t know you have to check behind the students for every. Single. Little. Detail. You get cussed out by angry parents for misspelling their child’s name.

You stay up all night to work, at least once a month. You write long notes on all their essays, even if they just flip to the back to see the grade. You care so hard. Already heavy, you get fatter as time goes on, unable to expend the time, money, and energy to cook healthily.

You try to write and teach. You realize that you may only be able to do one. You are afraid you’ll never be able to do either.


Amanda J. said...

I decided to read this right before bed, and now I'm sad. That was ... beautiful and honest. I'm glad things got better for you, because if I didn't think/know they had and the next post was this painful, I think I would probably tear up.

Why is it that writers have some of the hardest journeys?

And now to do something more cheerful so I can get some sleep. :)

Miriam S. Forster said...

This post just makes me want to find a time machine, go back to that period in your life, and give you lots and lots of hugs.

I'm so happy this story gets better!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

This was beautiful and honest Beth. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share, and for being talented enough to write it so elegantly. I can't wait to read the rest of the weeks posts, and I'm so happy you've found the success you SO deserve. :)

Myrna Foster said...

I'm with Amanda; I'm glad I know where this story is going, and I'm really sorry it was so hard. Thanks for "writing it out." The writing makes you feel better, doesn't it?

Melissa said...

This was...heartbreakingly beautiful. So sad but the honesty sort of tempered it, in a strange way.

Thank you, for writing this. You just reminded everyone who follows you that we struggle (writers always seem to struggle the most) but we know where it ends. Even though it was hard, we know the road becomes - if not easier - lighter to travel.

You're so brave.

Jodi Meadows said...


On the other hand, I know where it's heading. And I think sometimes we have to deal with all the crap so when we have to write it for our characters, it's real.

I'm looking forward to more of this. I've wondered about your journey to now, so thank you for sharing this much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting this out there. What an intense journey so far. Knowing what you have now makes this an even more compelling post. I look forward to the next one.

Katie said...

OMG. More more more!!!!!!! I'm glued. What a great story.

Sad, but I know the ending and I know you achieved your dream :)

This post give me hope.

Hugs and kisses and congrats all around.

Anonymous said...

I was touched and moved by this, maybe because you are definitiely a writer? I think you were meant to have this "first job" experience on your road to becoming a writer. It was hard but as you look back on it would you have traded it for the NYC one? Can't wait to read the next post!

Kristi Helvig said...

Thank you for sharing this with us - you're awesome!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

cant wait to read the rest....

Amparo Ortiz said...

This moved me more than words can express, Beth.

Thank you for making me believe.

Casey McCormick said...


So moving.

I can't wait to read the other installments.

JEM said...

The best part of this story is the part where you get to realize your true dreams. And I promise you weren't as bad of a teacher as you thought you were. You've taught all of us so much! (cheesy, I know, but I'm sticking with it).

Danyelle said...

This is beautiful, Beth. Just like you. :)

Bane of Anubis said...

This is poignant and brilliant. Thank you for sharing.

Karen Lange said...

I feel like I know you better now. Thanks:)

PJ Hoover said...

Ah, great post, Beth! It makes my heart feel all funny reading it. And makes me happy I know you!
Looking forward to the next one.

in which a girl reads said...

Wow, I'm speechless.

This is so beautiful and heartfelt and poignant.

Jemi Fraser said...

I do teach and write and I agree - it's incredibly hard. Teaching is so all-consuming - I'm drained each and every day even though I love my job. Thankfully, I find it fun as well :)

Mary Brebner said...

Girl, I feel your pain. Because I'm right there with you. Especially with that first year of teaching--I had zero clue as to what I was doing. Thank god it was second grade and they were sweet and the principal was very supportive.

I'm looking forward to reading more of your journey!

Theresa Milstein said...

You warned of a long story, but I got swept up in it. I'm sorry about your brother. And your grandmother. I wouldn't know how to answer the sibling question either.

I'm pulling for you to succeed and can't wait for the next post.

Melissa said...

Wow, this is so beautiful and heartfelt. I got teary-eyed reading this.

It's weird how well-meaning adults will tell kids that certain dreams will never happen. I remember when I was in high school and I first told everybody that I wanted to write books, they scoffed at the idea and told me that I'd never make any money. So...I ended up teaching.

Carolyn V. said...

Aw how sad...and true. I think the story will get better and the teacher will realize she is a great writer and touch many lives. =)

Marcia said...

Beth, this is moving and beautifully written. Eagerly awaiting the rest.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've not been reading blogs much lately and just found this after reading the sequel. I'm stunned and awed and amazed by you, although I thought I already was. You have the heart of a champion.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this Beth.


lotusgirl said...

Oh my goodness. You have me all choked up. Thanks for sharing your story.

Christina Farley said...

Oh Beth. I'm crying now. Did you have to do that? You are so strong and have so much heart. I think that's what makes you such a fantastic writer.

Sending more hugs.

Lisa and Laura said...

Beth, my mom actually sent me over here to read these posts. Believe it or not her mother's day present was a google reader subscription and your blog was one of the first I subscribed her to. Now I'm really glad that I did because these posts are not to be missed.

This was beautifully written and I could relate to so much of it.

Corey Schwartz said...

Hi Beth,

I'm late, but I want to read all the posts through from the beginning. I already knew some of this stuff (about your trunk novels) but I did not know about your brother. I am so sorry!


The Newbie Novelist said...

Beth, I am crying here. For most of this post- this is my life! The teachers reading my stories in elementary school. Later, me trying to balance writing and teaching high school. The fights during the first year of teaching, with NO CLUE as to how to manage. (And yes- we have sheep- they were in front of my portable!) No time to cook- gaining weight. Never knowing how to balance the HOURS of grading- taking so long to write meticulous comments on their papers, only to have students crumple their essays and shove them into their back packs... And all the while my novel waits at home... still waiting for me.

Even though I haven't clicked on the other posts, I know the end of this. You have a marvelous book I can't wait to read in January! You have done it! You are PROOF that it can be done. That I can teach, that I can continue to help those God puts in my class for as long as He wants me to teach. That I can keep honing my craft, and keep writing. And someday, I will be able to write a series of posts as well, about how I made the transition.

Thank you for sharing. And thank you for being a teacher ALL those years. I know that your students are proud to know that YOU taught them. You made a difference in their lives.

The Newbie Novelist said...

p.s. I went to college at App State in Boone! Even though I was born and raised in Florida, I'm a NC gal at heart! :-)


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