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Late Blooming Writers Can Succeed!
"Musings" for April 2005
by Margot Finke
I am a late bloomer, so this month I want to muse about how, when, and why I took so long to begin writing for children. The upside for late bloomers is having a cache of rich experiences to draw upon, a laser-like focus, and patience. We know time is precious. The words, "Publish or Perish," have a galvanizing effect. So we miss the thrill of early publication: getting there is the end game. Who cares a worn cliché if the flower of our talent is late blooming - as long as it blooms?
The Reason (excuse):
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Long ago, I kept my mother pregnant and panting a month past her due date -- Mum swore this was true. My tardy entrance set a pattern I have never broken. Slow to learn at school, slow to mature and learn life's lessons, slow to find the right man. My early trips down life's side-roads drove Mum crazy. Finally, late to initiate the long, ever-winding path that is motherhood.
I was always a dabbler. A story here, a half-finished play there. Many stories were started but few were finished. I was too busy being late for everything and finding my way. It would take a belated happy marriage, plus three children, to turn me into a late blooming writer.
Moving from Australia to Oregon was a turning point. I worried that my kids would forget about the Land Down-under. I placed a National Geographic map on their bedroom wall: one that showed all my beloved Aussie critters. Every night at bedtime I said, "Pick a critter!" Then, I'd make up wild and wacky animal stories right off the top of my head.
Our youngest two went to grade school, and I became a Teacher's Aid. Kids giggled at my accent and asked about koalas and kangaroos. A teacher suggested I talk about Aussie animals. I was soon regaling second graders with the trials of "Oscar, the Friendly Tasmanian Devil," and how "Kobi Koala Borrowed a Pouch." Other off-the-cuff tales followed.
After a while, kids would interrupt. "But Mrs. Finke, that's not how you told it last time!" Uh-oh! I had forgotten the original story line. Their teacher, now a good friend, suggested I write down my stories.
I believe there is a right time and place for everything important in our lives. These stories opened a door within me. I WANTED to write. Hey, nothing happened overnight. I let my imagination run riot. It all went into my stories. I read them to the grade schoolers and kept on telling them about Australia. Someone mentioned I should publish them. I pricked up my ears. Me, published? Why not? My writing took on added urgency. Out went the typewriter, and in came a nifty Word Processor. Hooray! Publication was just a matter of months away.
Please, stop laughing.
When the Word Processor failed to get me published, I tossed that, and bought my first computer. I had no idea how it worked. It took months to tame that sucker, and the Dummies series of books became lifesavers for a dummy like me.
Paying My Dues:
Next, I stumbled into the online CW (Children's Writers) list. CW was new and small, under twenty members: but what talented and generous writers. Their advice and mentoring was kindly and unstinting. I began to understand that writing for children was a craft to be learned. Researching the right publishers, and mastering the troublesome query letter, took on vital importance.
I memorized the writer's mantra: perspiration, inspiration, writing talent and luck. Published writers told me that sticking with it was key. In defiance of rejection letters, nasty critiques, unsympathetic relatives, and editors who forget about them, these writers never quit.
I sent out queries and manuscripts, because writers who don't never become published. I grew stubborn and wrote every day. Nothing worked. Publishers stayed away in hordes. My eldest daughter, noting my mortal clock ticking, kindly offered to continue trying posthumously, if necessary, on my behalf. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Before long, the years were passing as fast as I was writing. I swore I'd be nicer to my eldest daughter -- just in case. By now, our two youngest were away at college.
On the Brink:
The speedy passing of years shocked me into doing something pragmatic and sensible. I formed a critique group. Writing is a lonely occupation. My group encouraged and comforted me. They inspired me to write stronger plots and create richer characters. My paragraphs of fluff were pruned. Critiquing the writing of others taught me a great deal. Spotting grammatical errors and plot weaknesses in other manuscripts was far easier than seeing the same faults in my own writing. Thanks to Opus members, I grew as a writer.
Acceptance Is Sweet:
Yes, I was a late starter; but thanks to wonderful mentors and critiquers, I finally did bloom. Two monthly columns: "Musings" in the Purple Crayon, and "Writer's Retreats & Conferences" for Smart Writers Journal, plus a series of rhyming animal stories ("Kangaroo Clues" being the first out). My private Critique Service does not make me rich. Yet it does enable me to help other writers, and observe them mastering the craft of writing while their talent grows -- awesome! And I am optimistic about the chances of several of my mid grade books currently knocking on publishing doors in New York. The Website ( alternate URL ) I designed is fun to maintain, and I hope, helpful to other writers. Offering help whenever I can, is payback for when I was a newcomer to children's writing, and really appreciated what others taught me.
Do you think about writing? Stop thinking and WRITE! Whether sixteen, or sixty-plus, let it all hang out -- then write about it! I didn't begin serious writing until my fifties. You will never be published any younger, mate. Whatever past circumstances blocked your road to writing, I want to encourage you to throw off procrastination's shackles and start writing NOW!
Visit Kezi Matthews "Late Bloomers" page to read about children's writers whose talent bloomed later in their lives. Their names might surprise you.
Happy writing, mates!
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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