[Note to readers: I have been invited to participate in the Autumn Blog Challenge (see the button below on the right), which involves following a writing prompt every day between now and October 31. I'm not sure time is going to allow me to participate fully, but I'm going to do my best. Today's writing prompt asks me to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up.]
I grew up surrounded by books - my father is a clergyman and my mother is a teacher - and I learned to read at an unusually early age. (My mother claims that I was reading fluently in preschool, around age 3.) As soon as I found out that books were written by people, I resolved to be one of those people.
My mother read to me and my sisters (and later to my brother, too) every single night. We curled up on her bed in the matching nightgowns that my grandmother had sewn for us, and we listened. There were nursery rhymes and fairy tales from my mother's My Book House anthology, and later I remember a story called My Naughty Little Sister. When I got older and started reading on my own, I went to the public library and checked out every single book by Carolyn Haywood and Sydney Taylor. I wrote to my favorite writers and asked them for advice. Their advice was, of course, "write."
And so write I did. I made up stories and cartoons and poems. In third grade, I wrote a series of stories about sisters I called "The Swiss Triplets." I named the main characters after my best friends, Jackie, Pam, and Gail. I submitted my stories to American Girl magazine, but they were always rejected. In fifth grade, inspired by the television show "Eight is Enough" and Sydney Taylor's books, I worked on composing a tale about a large family. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baglieri, read my installments regularly and encouraged me to continue. "Someday," she wrote in my 1976 yearbook, "I want to go to the library and check out a book by Jennie Arlin."
Mrs. Baglieri hasn't seen her wish come true yet, and I'll tell you why. I have always had to earn my own living, and I never figured out how to do so as a fiction writer. My skill at stringing words together ended me up in law school, and though I hated it from the beginning, being a lawyer provided me with a decent paycheck until I became a mother. And when I finally escaped the full-time practice of law and decided to embrace stay-at-home motherhood, there was simply no time to write.
I don't really have much of an excuse now. I still have to practice law on a part-time basis at home, but there should be at least a little time to write creatively, if I really try.
I started this blog a couple of years ago as a first step toward reclaiming my childhood dream. I have an idea for a novel (actually, I have several), but every time I sit down to work on it something else interferes. There's the paying work that has to get done even though I get no pleasure out of it. And there's the daunting task of keeping house for three teenagers, an overworked husband, and two dogs. In my spare time - I admit it - I usually practice my guitar or read. I should really be spending that time writing. I'm not getting any younger.
I'll admit that I am intimidated by the process of traditional publication. I hear story after story of the novel that took years and years to find a publisher. I don't have years and years. I find the blog platform easy because I can write something quickly, from the heart, and see it published immediately. But this blog doesn't have a lot of readers, so I don't get a lot of feedback. (Frankly, a large chunk of the feedback I get is from disapproving relatives. That doesn't do much to encourage me.)
So there you have it. I am not yet what I want to be. I worry that I never will be. But I feel like I owe it to myself - and to Mrs. Baglieri - to at least try.