Emily has an English degree from BYU and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. Her first YA novel, THE WAY HE LIVED, was published in 2007. The book received accolades including a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. It was also winner of the Utah Book Award in Young Adult Fiction.
Her next YA novel, BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE, will be released from Dutton (Penguin) early next year.
It’s easy to lose perspective.
At least, it is for me.
Like on any given day, my to-do list looks somewhat like it looks today:
–get oil changed
— wash car and fill gas tank
–take stuff to Goodwill
–get eyebrows waxed
–write blog for Carol
–clean master bathroom
–Erin’s baby shower at 7:30
I’m a full-time writer. I don’t have kids. I love writing. And still, it’s so easy for me to prioritize like this: Gotta make sure my car runs, gotta make sure I’m not living in a sea of bacteria, gotta make sure my yeti-like eyebrows don’t scare anyone, gotta make sure we don’t starve. I gotta write, because that’s who I am. But it’s a different kind of gotta.
I had the same struggles I have now five years ago, when I started the Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. I’d recently graduated from college, recently gotten married, recently bought a house: basically, I’d recently become an adult, and I wanted to know how my lifelong dream of being a writer fit into the plan.
The life of a college student had been full of easy-to-measure accomplishments, but the life of a would-be writer, I found, was full of waiting, rejection, and more waiting. I loved the time I spent working on my craft, but it was discouraging. It was also easy to second-guess myself: was it more valuable to get a real job while my work as a writer remained in the “hobby” stage?
I’d wanted to study at Vermont College ever since I’d heard about the program as an undergraduate, but I’d always thought of it as a pipe dream. After all, the program was expensive, and it required students to spend two weeks each summer and winter at the campus in Vermont (the rest of the year was spent writing and working long-distance with an advisor). But when my husband suggested I just go for it, I was thrilled.
I worked hard. I learned from some of the top writers in my field, even working with Norma Fox Mazer, who I’d dreamed of meeting since I read her work as a young teen. I met friends who loved writing, too–and were at the same stage in their career that I was.
But best of all was the freedom it gave me when I returned home. Now, when neighbors asked me to volunteer for something I didn’t have time for, I could tell them I was too busy working on my thesis, not too busy working on some novel that might or might not ever get published. Prioritizing my time became easier—my job as a writer and a student came first, because it was required.
Now, three years after completing my MFA, my first young adult novel, The Way He Lived (which yes, was also my thesis) was released last year. My next book, another YA titled Back When You Were Easier to Love, comes out next year.
It’s not all thanks to my time at Vermont College—becoming an author has always been my dream, and I know I would have accomplished it no matter what. But the program gave me the courage to change my to-do list, believing my work as a writer belongs at the top.
So what if it’s a lesson I relearn every day, sometimes losing sight of the big picture?
I’m only human, after all.