How do you reinvent yourself and your career?

Hi everyone,

Jane YolenHere’s another question for summertime discussion suggested by Jane Yolen. “How do you reinvent yourself and your career?”

Has anyone gone through this? I have twice, the first time in my fifties. I won’t go into details because I’ve told the story before, but during the six years I served on the Springfield board of education, from 1982-1988, my writing took a hit. I only produced one worthwhile story in those six years and seriously worried that my career was over.

At the end of my service I decided to change my direction as a writer and reinvent myself as a poet. It was a relatively easy decision because I didn’t think I had much to lose. I chose poetry. I already knew most of the mechanics and had published a smattering of poems but for the next three years I focused on writing nothing but poems.

I had no plan, no strategy, no general theme. I simply wrote, read about poetry, wrote, read about poetry, and wrote.

At the end of that period I shared my total collection of 100 poems with an editor at Boyds Mills Press. I was offered a multi-title contract, beginning with SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, which was published in 1993.

The second time I reinvented myself came in 1996, only three years later. Maybe this wasn’t exactly a reinvention but it did lead to new opportunities. I decided that I wanted to become involved with professional books published for teachers. I think the motivation came from the six years I’d recently spent on the school board coupled with the frequent visits to schools I’d been doing since the 70s.

I partnered with Bernice Cullinan and we wrote EASY POETRY LESSONS THAT DAZZLE AND DELIGHT. Since then I’ve co-authored with several wonderful teachers and professors to create a dozen titles and four others are in the works. That change nineteen years ago has led to finding a new niche plus numerous opportunities to address audiences of educators at state and national conferences.

Jane, I know that you also work in several genres and recently said that you yourself hardly know how to classify yourself as a writer. So there may be a down side to wearing many writing hats. Conversely, a new challenge can reinvigorate a writer, get the juices flowing again and, in time, perhaps lead to a new fan base and expanded opportunities.

What say you?



20 comments on “How do you reinvent yourself and your career?

  1. I have reinvented myself many times, beginning with being an editor who wrote. And then a writer who edited. A nonfiction writer who thought fiction was beyond me. A poet who found verse the easiest road until I tried non-rhyming verse. A short form writer who thought she couldn’t write long. (I use to joke I got nosebleed after 100 pages) and now has over 60 novels out, for middle grade, YA, and adults. A comic book reader who was scared of the graphic novel format, and then a graphic novelist teaching others how to do it. A sneerer at verse novels until I tried writing them. (Sold one, then the editor left so it is currently floating.) A confessed loner as a writer who has written with multiple partners (not sure what the word for that is. Slut?) And I am always wondering what the next thing down the road will be.

    I feel if you ain’t stretching as a writer, you ain’t trying hard enough. And why repeat the same old thing over and over again? Might as well work in a parts factory. One of the glories of being a writer is how much there is to learn and say.


    • Whew! Jane is what I’ve heard true? That you’re actually a conglomerate with dozens of Jane Yolen’s working day and night spinning words into gold? It’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far.

  2. Multiple personality disorder at worst; highly compartmentalized personality, midway; happy camper, third; genius fourth. I think it;s the third, myself. But others have proffered all the rest as explanations, too.

  3. Like Jane, i’ve been light on my feet — published poetry first, then a couple of plays, then a bunch of short stories and articles. Books came last, non-fiction, then fiction. YA, middle grade, picture books in that order. More non-fiction. Anthologies. More plays. At the moment, I’m mainly working on plays and short fiction again. Markets ebb and flow, and that’s affected my writing to a certain extent. But variety and change are in my nature, and my nature plays a much larger role in the way I think about writing. The material always determines the form, well before I set pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. I don’t know that it’s a choice, at least not a conscious choice, and I therefore don’t know whether it’s available to all. My attempts at conscious choice — writing to a particular market, say — have fallen flat. What works for me is to play servant to the demands of the story that calls on me to write it. Others need to find what works for them. Go with that and make no apologies!

    • Sandy, Jane beat me to it. I love that expression too. Thanks for adding further texture to the conversation. As always, much appreciated.

  4. You give me hope that, as someone *only* (hah) in my early 50s, I, too, have time to become a renown poet like you, or anything else I choose to be. Loved Jane and Sandy’s stories, too.

  5. I was an art major aiming towards teaching until I student taught – dreadfully!
    An amusement park portrait artist until I found employment as an in-house, in-cubicle greeting card artist. When I saw a tiny ad in American Artist magazine for Uri Shulevitz’s children’s book workshop, I reinventured forth: I would illustrate books – though I did write a manuscript for one, my very first, that summer in Oneonta, NY, 31 yrs ago.. Evenings & weekends, I would illustrate books for children, drawing and painting well-dressed teddy bears and Santa Clauses by day. And I wrote, kept trying to do it better. Why? I’m a fearful soul. I thought if something happens to my ‘money hand’… if the greeting card co. goes bust… if the execs decide to lay us off… I’ll need as much wherewithal as I can.
    But then I was offered the chance to paint a cover for Patricia Clapp’s novel Constance, about a genuine girl, a passenger on the Mayflower. In reading the book, being so taken w/ the steadfastness of those seafaring pioneers, I was led to do a picture book, Three Young Pilgrims. In trying to show & tell, feel & explain their hardy reinventure, I reinvented myself as one who specialized in historical subjects in verses, in picture books, chapter books and now a biography w/ no pictures at all except camera-captured by someone else. And now the world has changed, the business, technologies have changed, but I’m still fearful, a bonafide sissypants and worrywart. Time for reinvention – that’s surely what the Pilgrims thought. that and keep our wits about us, hold on tight. another story is out there on the horizon.

    • Cheryl, reading about your adventures is itself an adventure. For such a professed sissypants and worrywart, you’ve done some mighty brave reinventions. Glad you did and might again! Thanks!

      • Cheryl is proof that being brave is not the same as being fearless. I doubt anyone is truly fearless, but the truly brave feel fear and take action anyway. I’ve always believed that if a new project doesn’t terrify me on some level, it probably isn’t a challenge worth taking on. If it DOES terrify me, I’ve hit pay dirt. Here’s to the sissypants and worrywarts of the world!

  6. Gosh, David, Jane Sandy and Cheryl, thanks for all your stories on reinventing yourself. My love for the creative world, I knew I had to try to get my toe in anywhere I seen a small opening, in-between life’s detours . I have dabbled in newspapers as a book reviewer, columnist and reporter; stories in anthologies, articles for newsletters and magazines, newsletter editor, poet, artist and photographer, two non-fiction military books and the list rambles on. I wish I would have been more patient and stuck to writing for children – my first love (my files are full). Thanks again for the words of encouragement.

    • Mary Nida, it is always a pleasure when you drop by. We’ve been exchanging notes this way for six years I believe. Thank you for all your support over the years.

  7. Thank you each of you reinvents!
    I have pasted all your accounts into my Notes app and will be studying them on all my devices until I am inspired anew to passion paths beyond my wildest dreams.

    • Hello, Dear Jeanne! I’m happy you like this one. My thanks to Jane for suggesting it and to all who are making it such an interesting conversation.

  8. David, it’s encouraging to see folks like you and Jane, who are willing to stretch beyond your comfort zones to try something new and intriguing – it offers a bit of hope to the rest of us who consider that! I began writing poetry for adults (published but unpaid), moved into children’s poetry (wow, I get money for this??), and then began working on picture books and found myself with a contract. I’m still developing a skills as a picture book writer, but am working on some verse novel ideas because I just can’t sit still doing the same thing, over and over!

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