Click here for an explanation of the The Ways We Struggle guest post series.
This week I’m joined by Sydney Salter, author of the MG Jungle Crossing and the contemporary YA novels My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters and Swoon At Your Own Risk. Sydney lives and write full-time in Utah while her daughters attend school and her husband keeps busy with his pediatric patients. She spends my days at my messy desk working on novels, and drinking lots of tea. She also loves reading, hiking, skiing, cooking, going to movies and rock concerts, and traveling absolutely anywhere! Today she talks about rising above other people’s expectations of what you can do.
This school year, I’ve spent a lot to time teaching writing workshops to kids from 4th grade through high school. In every class, there’s at least one precocious author-in-progress. I’ve met 5th graders who’ve finished novels, sophomores who possess crazy-good plots, and 6th graders who capture authentic dialogue. I can’t help praising these young stars.
Most of the kids I meet aren’t stars. I’m thinking about the 4th grader who erased every word, leaving messy marks on the page. Or the 5th grader who never quite finished anything; the 6th grader who inked pages of words, but shyly shook his head when offered the opportunity to share. And the high school junior who listened intently, but never spoke. I can’t help recognizing myself in these kids.
No one ever singled me out either. I poured words into journals, but I struggled against other’s low expectations of me.
High school classmates muttered bitterly when I won a 3rd place prize at a regional journalism conference. How could such a mediocre student win? Yet that itty bitty victory allowed me to dream, maybe I could be a writer?
I watched other students receive the kind of praise I craved throughout college. Yet, I plugged along—stubbornly—filling journals and notebooks, crafting poems and stories. I submitted a few pieces, beginning my impressive collection of rejection letters.
Later I attended workshops and conferences. No one ever singled me out. I watched agents and editors pull other writers aside. I kept writing, completing one manuscript after another. I won a few local contests, each little victory allowing me to dream, maybe I can succeed as a writer?
I wish I could say that publication has erased my struggle against low expectations. But editors still reject new manuscripts, agents have stopped believing in me, and I’ve received a mix of good and bad book reviews. Yet I’m still plugging away, writing new manuscripts, filling journals and notebooks.
And when I teach, I end every presentation by talking to those kids who haven’t impressed me. “You’re the only one who has to believe in yourself,” I say. “If you want to write, do it! Don’t let anyone else tell you can’t be a writer.”