by Sarah Woodbury
Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint those moments in your life where everything is suddenly changed. When you look across the room and say to yourself, I’m going to marry him. Or stare down at those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, when you’re only twenty-two and been married for a month and a half and are living on only $800 a month because you’re both still in school and my God how is this going to work?
And sometimes it’s a bit harder to remember.
Until I was eleven, my parents tell me they thought I was going to be a ‘hippy’. I wandered through the trees, swamp, and fields of our 2 ½ acre lot, making up poetry and songs and singing them to myself. I’m not sure what happened by the time I’d turned twelve, whether family pressures or the realities of school changed me, but it was like I put all that creativity and whimsicalness into a box on a high shelf in my mind. By the time I was in my late-teens, I routinely told people: ‘I haven’t a creative bone in my body.’ It makes me sad to think of all those years where I thought the creative side of me didn’t exist.
When I was in my twenties and a full-time mother of two, my husband and I took our family to a picnic with his graduate school department. I was pleased at how friendly and accepting everyone seemed.
And then one of the other graduate students turned to me out of the blue and said, ‘do you really think you can jump back into a job after staying home with your kids for five or ten years?’
I remember staring at him, not knowing what to say. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it, but that it didn’t matter—it couldn’t matter—because I had this job to do and the consequences of staying home with my kids were something I’d just have to face when the time came.
Fast forward ten years and it was clear that this friend had been right in his incredulity. I was earning $15/hr. as a contract anthropologist, trying to supplement our income while at the same time holding down the fort at home. I remember the day it became clear that this wasn’t working. I was simultaneously folding laundry, cooking dinner, and slogging through a report I didn’t want to write, trying to get it all in before the baby (number four, by now) woke up. I put my head down, right there on the dryer, and cried.
It was time to seek another path. Time to follow my heart and do what I’d wanted to do for a long time, but hadn’t had the courage, or the belief in myself to make it happen.
At the age of thirty-seven, I started my first novel, just to see if I could. I wrote it in six weeks and it was bad in a way that all first books are bad. It was about elves and magic stones and will never see the light of day. But it taught me, I can do this!
My husband told me, ‘give it five years,’ and in the five years that followed, I experienced rejection along my newfound path. A lot of it. Over seventy agents, and then dozens and dozens of editors (once I found an agent), read my books and passed them over. Again and again.
Meanwhile, I just wrote. A whole series. Then more books, for a total of eight, seven of which I published in 2011.
And I’m happy to report that, even though I still think of myself as staid, my extended family apparently has already decided that those years where I showed little creativity were just a phase. The other day, my husband told me of several conversations he had, either with them or overheard, in which it became clear they thought I was so alternative and creative—so far off the map—that I didn’t even remember there was a map.
I’m almost more pleased about that than anything else. Almost. Through writing, I’ve found a community of other writers, support and friendship from people I hadn’t known existed a few years ago, and best of all, thousands of readers have found my books in the last year. Here’s to thousands more in the years to come . . .
My web page: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/
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