6/2/11

Letting Go of Asian Constraints to Pursue Writing

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One little fan of children's books.
Photo by M.Adcock
When I was in seventh grade my teacher asked the class to say what we wanted to do one day. I answered, “I want to write a book.” My teacher responded, “Why wait? Just do it now.” I was thirteen and had no clue how to write a book. As a pre-teen living in a small Midwest town, the idea seemed huge and unattainable.

Yet I always wrote. In junior high and high school I won poetry and essay writing contests, representing my schools at award ceremonies while my English teachers beamed. I was also Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook staff for several years.

Many Asian parents steer their kids to major in medicine, law, engineering, or business. Writing, music, and art – those were just hobbies, not “real” jobs. My parents grew up during turbulent times in China and experienced periods of uncertainty. From their point of view they wanted me to have a secure future. Security meant working in something practical, concrete, and salaried.

I majored in Communication, and my parents were not thrilled. The Communication department was part of the Liberal Arts school which meant jobs titles were not as easily definable as say, a doctor or a lawyer. Liberal Art majors got jobs with whichever companies recruited at the school and offered jobs. Eventually they came to accept my major, but at that time I think they just did not understand what it was.

My first job was working in sales for General Mills - a great company, but I hated driving 500 miles a week. I noticed the marketing people were the ones dictating to the sales department what to do. I wanted to call the shots, so I switched to marketing at the same company. One day at the corporate holiday party, my coworkers and I lined up for different activity stations of which one included a fortune teller. I was skeptical, but curious regarding what she’d say. Surprisingly, the fortune teller mentioned, “You’ve always wanted to write a book, and you will…around the time you are 40 years old.”

As a freshly-graduated 20-something year old, 40 seemed really far away. I forgot about the comment and continued my career path, eventually getting my MBA in marketing. During this time the only writing I did was in my personal journals.

Ironically my business degree led me to the publishing world. After grad school I got a marketing job in New York City at Time Inc., the publishing arm of Time Warner. I worked for magazines such as Real Simple, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, and more. I loved and breathed the magazine world. While I crunched numbers and performed analytics, I secretly envied the other half of the company - the editorial side. I wondered, “Had I pursued writing in college, could I have become one of these writers and editors who created the content for the magazines I marketed?” During this time I took writing classes after work. I wrote short stories with the intent of submitting them for publication, but never “had enough time” to actually send them out.

Now that I am raising an active 2 year old I laugh as I look back on how I thought I had lacked time. In reality I never made writing a priority because it was not my main job. It was always something on the side like the paperwork on my desk that collected dust.

With the arrival of my daughter my priorities changed. I realized my job was not my identity, and I felt a powerful urge to stay home with my daughter during the short time we’d have together before she started school. I also felt I was at a cross roads, and if I were to pursue writing the time was now. I quit my job, spent more time with my daughter, and began freelance writing.

For one article I interviewed an Asian children’s book author, Kat Yeh, who most recently wrote The Magic Brush. She inspired me so much that I admitted to her my dream to write a book. After having my daughter I knew I wanted to write a children’s book. Kat encouraged me to pursue this and told me about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference in NJ. The conference holds workshops for writers and also offers the opportunity to meet with agents and publishers. This conference starts tomorrow and ends Sunday. I will be meeting Kat there.

I feel this is the beginning of something good...something I was meant to do. As for the fortune teller, I’m not quite 40 so perhaps if all goes well her prediction will ring true.

18 comments:

  1. Dream comes true, Maria!

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  2. Very nice story.

    Good Luck,
    Earnest H.

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  3. I think many people also wish for that dream career, but like your post reflects, financial priorities, children,and life in general prohibits most people from pursing their dreams. Kudos to you for not letting go of your dreams and good luck to your future career.

    - Stella

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  4. I know exactly what you mean re: college majors. My parents are from the Caribbean and have the same attitude re: college and majors.

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  5. How neat!!! This IS going to be the start of something new. something BIG. And know and believe that all of this is happening at the right time. I am a big believer that everything happens... when it's supposed to happen. Nothing before it's time, nothing after it's time, but everything at the right time. Your meeting Kat, this conference, and you beginning to fulfill your dream... all happening at the right time.

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  6. This article is such an eye opener - what is life without dreams? It's wonderful that you are making the effort to realize your lifelong dreams. Makes me stop and wake up to the fact that life is short. The time to fulfill one's dreams is NOW!

    Good luck and now that you have embarked on this journey, don't stop...keep writing. :-)

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  7. Good luck with your dream.

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  8. Maria, I'm so happy you are following your heart & doing what you love. Your story about choosing a career path holds true for me too. Everything other than a business (or law/medicine) career was brushed off as unimportant & to be done as a hobby.
    Looks like we both have ventured off to follow dreams. ~Melanie

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  9. I'm glad you finally came to that realization and can say it out loud. We're our own barriers, aren't we?

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  10. It's interesting how our lives often take winding paths! I must say, I don't think your experience is unique to Asian Americans. I was also the high school yearbook editor, always wanted to write, went into marketing (at Time Inc) and then eventually became a freelance writer. You never know where you will end up... maybe I'll open a gluten free cupcake shop in 5 years ;)

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  11. That's cute. Writing a children's book would be an awesome accomplishment, especially as a mom. I can't even imagine how cool it would be to read your hand crafted book to your own children and then your grandchildren. This is a dream of mine too and while I'm not quite ready yet, I'm building up to it...letting some stories simmer. I also hear what you're saying about parents and careers, yes, they want the best for us...but sometimes they forget that passion is the most powerful ambition of them all. Go for what you love! <3

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  12. You've gotten past the hardest part--decding you're going to do it. The rest will be easy. Enjoy the ride!

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  13. Wow! What a great story. Thank you for sharing. Looks like you are well on your way in the writing world!

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  14. This is a great story!! I think we forget a lot about our priorities when we go to university and then start working.

    When I announced that I was going to Miami to study Theater and French, my mom and the rest of the family were up in arms. Everyone in the house studied something to do with either medicine or business. I was glad my mom never said don't, she only advised me to study something else, which was French. Thank God, because I ended up marrying a French man, whose family don't speak a word of English. After working as a copy writer, I decided to stay at home with my first born and then with the French man's encouragement started researching the publishing world so I would be a bit less clueless about how to go about querying my books.

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  15. Great blog, how about links exchanging? Please contact me asap, Thanks.

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  16. I am not sure how I missed this the first time around but I am glad I had the chance to read it now. Like you, I always wanted to be a writer, still do. I believe with determination it can be attained. I hope the conference went well and you were able to connect with others who can help you on your journey. If not, no worries! The time will come I am sure. Till then, keep on keeping on. You may be surprised at what happens. *Hugs*

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  17. @Migdalia - @MsLatina Thanks for your comment, Migalia. I know you will reach your dream, too, and are well on your way!

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