Becoming the Writer No One Thought I Could Ever Be – Caroline Leavitt
The first time I met Caroline Leavitt was by reading her New York Times Bestselling Novel Pictures of You. Her beautiful book has been kept in a special place – in the short stack of novels that inspire me to be a better writer. Since publishing The Lake House, I’ve gotten the chance to meet Caroline through an online writer’s group. She’s a warm, caring, and humble person who comes straight from the heart.
I’m so honored that she’s taken the time to write about what it took for her to pursue the dream everyone said was impossible.
I hope her words help you to find the inspiration to continue to pursue your dreams no matter how many times you’re told “no.” We all hear about instant success when we see someone accomplished, but so often there’s a long struggle behind it. I give you the amazing Caroline Leavitt.
The first word I heard, about my writing, was “no.” I was a little girl, eight-years-old and sickly with asthma, and I spent most of my time writing stories in the library while my friends were outside in the damp or the rain or the humid heat playing. While they romped around, I imagined I was a ballerina in Spain or a doctor in Africa, or sometimes, an asthmatic little girl who was a famous writer. But when I told my mother that what I was going to be when I grew up was a writer, she shook her head. “Be a teacher,” she advised. “Or how about a nurse? You can help people that way. Stories are just a waste of time.”
Being stubborn, I didn’t listen. All though school, if I could write a story, I would. I never wrote a real book report, but instead, made up the books and then wrote reports on them, and I wasn’t discovered until my senior year of high school, when the teacher went to find the book and discovered it didn’t exist. When I had to go see my guidance counselor about college, I told her I was going to be a writer. She blinked at me. “Pardon me,” she said. “But I see no evidence that you could ever be a writer.”
I was seventeen when I began sending out my stories, packing them in those big brown self addressed stamped envelopes and sending them off to magazines. They always came back with form letters. “You’re wasting postage,” my father said, but I kept sending them out, anyway.
In college, I got into a creative writing class, one of 15 terrified kids under the scrutiny of a then famous writer. The first time he talked about my story, he held it up at the edges. “Let’s be frank,” he said. “This is totally crap.” I felt the tears streak my cheeks as he talked about how my lack of characterization, my lame plot, the deadening affect of my prose, but I didn’t leave. The next day, when I came back, he raised one brow at me. “Back again for more punishment?” he said.
“I’m here to learn.”
And learn I did. Every night, when the other kids were at parties or in the city, I was in my tiny dorm room, scratching out stories, working to make them right, sending them off, and always, always, getting those big brown envelopes back again.
When I graduated college, I had to have a job, but to my parents’ shock, instead of going for teaching jobs or nursing, I took low level terrible jobs so I could write. “Where’s your future?” my parents cried. I was fired from my job at an answering service, when I kept giving the emergency messages to Dr. Foot the obstetrician to Dr. Foot the podiatrist. I was fired from a job at a puzzle factory when I was too frightened of the glue press. And I was fired from my job typing because this was before computers and spell check , and I just made too many mistakes. I came home, discouraged, and when I did, there, in the mail, was a big brown self addressed stamped envelope. Disheartened, I ripped it up, scattering the pieces on the porch. I was about to walk inside when I happened to look down and then I saw it. One word.
Swooping down, I frantically put all the pieces together. I had won the Redbook Young Writers Contest. Seven thousand dollars and publication. An agent. A book deal.
“I’m finally a writer!” I told my friends. But really, when you think about it, wasn’t I always a writer? If you put your whole heart and soul into something each and every day, if you are on the journey, isn’t that as important as the destination? I was a writer–my dream–the first time I picked up a number 2 pencil and wrote, “once upon a time” when I was eight. And the dream’s never over. Every day now, I sit at my computer and there isn’t a moment I don’t feel lucky and blessed. Not a moment I don’t also think that the best way to make dreams come true is to never stop dreaming.
Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, which was one of the Best Books of 2011 from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Reviews. Her new novel, Is This Tomorrow, is a May Indie Pick, and a San Francisco Chronicle Editors Choice. Visit her at www.carolineleavitt.com