When I first started seriously considering the idea of writing as a career, I was 24 years old and a mother of two with another (very un-expectedly) on the way. I was working in an office for a company I believed in and with people I adored, but doing a job I wasn’t suited for or particularly good at. After a year of working full-time outside the home I’d finally gotten used to dropping my boys, then 3 and 5, off at daycare every day, but just couldn’t imagine adding a baby into the mix as it was. I took stock and realized three things:
- I wanted to be at home.
- I needed to earn an income
- I loved to write.
I’d fantasized about “being a writer” since elementary school, but it had always been sort of this vague image of banging out novels on an old-fashioned typewriter in an attic somewhere, or penning deep poems at the coffee shop, or maybe working for a magazine in New York City. I knew none of those dreams were going to meet the criteria I’d set – work from home, earn an income, like, now – yet I knew there were successful freelance writers who were doing just that. If they could do it, I figured I could, too.
There were just a few obstacles:
- I had no degree in English or journalism…or any degree, period.
- My publishing credits were limited to an essay I’d lucked into placing in an indie magazine and a poem that had gotten published in the community college anthology
- I didn’t know the first thing about getting started as a freelance nonfiction writer.
In short, I had no idea what I was doing.
I joined a few email groups made up of aspiring writers, many of whom also had no idea what they were doing, and we fumbled along together. I quickly learned that no background and no specific education can be overcome with effort. Doing your homework, learning your craft and developing your talent are essential. But there is one part of the recipe that I think is just as, or maybe even more important – finding people who will encourage you.
One of the writing group’s facilitators was a blogger you probably know, Dawn Freidman of This Woman’s Work. At the time Dawn was editing at a magazine, and she tossed me my first few “real” assignments, let me know where I could improve, and told me what I had done well. And then…she gave me more assignments. Yes, Dawn gave me my first writing gigs and helpful advice which were immensely helpful in propelling me along, but the encouragement she gave me was just as valuable. And I will always be grateful to her for it.
Those first few assignments she tossed my way led to other assignments, which led to more encouragement from the editors who seemed to like my work enough to publish it and send me a check. I joined other writer’s groups full of women, mostly moms themselves, who gave me applause when I craved it and commiseration when I needed it. I joined writer’s forums where other members would readily share editors’ contact information along with a “good luck!” or “go for it!” Pretty soon I had encouragement coming out of my ears.
And by the time my third baby was born, I was on my way! I’d replaced a good chunk of my office-job income with writing income, and over the next few years I slowly built my business until I no longer needed to work outside the home. I was publishing regularly in top magazines, ones I’d once only dreamed of cracking. I got a book deal, then another. In eight years I have come farther as a professional writer than I had ever dared to dream. And while there are many factors – perseverance, for example – that went into making my writing take off, I can say one of the biggest has been encouragement from others.
So when I found out that the August theme for the Hallmark “Life Is A Special Occasion“ campaign is “encouragement” I knew writing about encouraging each other couldn’t be a better way to kick off my series of posts on work, career dreams and moms. Because if there is any message I would want to pass on to a mother who is considering starting her own business, going back to school, making a job change, re-entering the workforce, or even deciding to devote her energies to home and family, it would be – yes, you can do it, and you really ought to hang out with other people who will tell you that. A lot.
Recently while speaking at a conference, I told the group of aspiring women writers and bloggers that we all need an entourage – our own support-team-slash-cheering section. We need to surround ourselves with people who will remind us that we’re talented when we forget, and assure us that we’re going places when we doubt. I’m not talking about empty praise or flattery – I mean a group of people who like and respect you enough to give it to you straight while still reminding you to get up and try again, yes, you can do it. And then you should return the favor. Encouraging others actually leads to feeling more positive, confident and optimistic, and in turn inspires others to encourage us back. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
There are so many downers in the world – people who will feel threatened by your success or even by the idea that you might have success one day. People who are too afraid to take chances themselves or who have been hurt or who have failed and are afraid to try again. People who really want the best for you, and truly believe the “best” is to give you “a dose of reality” (i.e. narrow, fearful version of reality.)
And some of those people are in your life permanently, for better or worse. So you need positive, encouraging people in your life to lift you up and counter-balance the negativity. And they need you, too.
There’s a lot involved in taking on a new way of life: learning, researching, committing and executing. But I think the very first step is surrounding yourself with people who will say “I’m so excited for you,” and “What a great idea,” or even “Have you thought about trying it this way instead?” but always with the underlying message: “I know you can do it.”
Because chances are, they’re right.
This post is part of a series sponsored by Hallmark’s “Life Is A Special Occasion” campaign – a sentiment I can really get behind. If you’d like to keep up with the rest of the bloggers participating in these posts and find out more about special promotions from Hallmark, sign up for the email list.