Each year around this time, I get invited to a dinner for past and present University of Texas scholarship recipients, and each year I do my best to attend. The familiar mix of ambition, hope, insecurity, self-assuredness, and/or curiosity amid the 18- to 21-year-olds is always endearing, and there’s the perpetual hope that I’ll get to yammer some about myself — and that said yammering is somehow useful to at least one of these kids as they plot their paths into adulthood.
Sometimes, I hear directly from these students actually asking me to yammer away. They know enough to know that they could benefit from some outside wisdom, and they’re uninformed enough to believe that I might have some to offer. “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some insight into what you do, the challenges of it, and whether you enjoy it or not,” went the most recent request.
Here’s what I told that soon-to-be graduate:
I write books for young readers, and I love it. I get to research fascinating things and find a way to convey that fascination to the most open-minded of audiences. I also get to make up ridiculous stuff and make that same audience laugh. I’ve loved doing both of those things since I was a boy, and I wouldn’t want to do one without the other. I’ve found a path that does not force me to choose.
I do not make a living at it — yet — but the work is as challenging as it is satisfying.
The challenges include figuring out how best to tell each story, and connecting those stories to the right editors and publishers, and getting my stories noticed in the marketplace among all the other volumes published each year, and learning how best to connect with my audiences when I get to meet them in person.
The satisfaction comes from knowing that I have found my community — other authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, editors, parents, readers, all of whom inspire and appreciate what I do — and knowing that I’ve found a profession that I can’t imagine ever wanting to retire from.
Maybe he’ll be able to extrapolate something from that that will do him some good. Maybe someone you know would be able to do the same. But I know for sure that it does me some good every now and then to reflect on where I’ve gotten to and why I like being here.
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