Possible Detours

Once, in one of my (not uncom­mon) moments of think­ing that I could no longer han­dle the finan­cial uncer­tain­ty of the children’s book writ­ing life, I read a book that pur­port­ed to match cre­ative peo­ple to poten­tial career pur­suits. I read the advice, filled out the quizzes, and final­ly received my assigned “type.” With great antic­i­pa­tion I turned to the sec­tion at the back of the book where pos­si­ble career paths were list­ed by type. I expect­ed to be told I should train to become a lawyer or an ad exec, some­thing with a per­haps-some­what- more pre­dictable income stream than my own.

But here are the career options I was strong­ly encour­aged to pursue:

  • Pup­peteer
  • Mime

With apolo­gies to all the high­ly paid mimes of the world, I couldn’t help but feel dis­cour­aged at this advice (almost the way one might feel if one were trapped inside a glass box).

I was recent­ly remind­ed of these pos­si­ble detours on my life’s path when some writer friends shared “Non-Teach­ing Jobs Twit­ter Rec­om­mends for Writ­ers” (I have already added “crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind” and “dol­phin” to my own buck­et list). And all of this popped into my head again at a school vis­it, when a stu­dent asked me the ques­tion I am almost always asked: “How much mon­ey do you make?”

The truth­ful-but-vague answer, as I explain when­ev­er I am asked, is that while a few children’s book writ­ers do get rich, most of us do not. I try to describe to the stu­dents some of the oth­er advan­tages I find in the writ­ing life, but I know that’s not what most of them remem­ber. I wor­ry that those of them who want to grow up to be pup­peteers or mimes or even dol­phins will give up their dreams too ear­ly after they hear my hon­est response.

So if you have a young writer in your life, go ahead and tell them the truth: most like­ly, they won’t get rich. But on my behalf, I hope you’ll also let them know that there’s a lot to be said for lov­ing your work. In hav­ing the chance to make an impact on the lives of young peo­ple who know you only through your sto­ries. In defin­ing your­self not by how much mon­ey you make, but by the rich­ness of your experiences.

Tell them that liv­ing their dream may be tough, but that there is more than one kind of pay-off in life.

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