I was sitting in the children’s section of my local Barnes & Noble working on a picture book manuscript. Know the Market was the advice given at the latest conference. So there I was researching other books, ones actually published, when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a woman doing her own research for a large publishing company and the manager of the children’s book department. They were talking about the lack of books for boys. 

I decided to chime in. “There is a real need for substantive, non-stereotypical books,” I said. What followed was a thoughtful conversation about the marketplace.

At the end of the conversation, I sheepishly added, “I’m actually a writer and working on some manuscripts for boys.” How shocking, she must have been thinking. But it was true and this happenstance encounter was magical for me. 

Writing is solitary work. It’s easy to get lost in the latest project and then after months of effort and sweat, question if your creation will ever see the light of day. A conversation, a good word, a glimmer of hope is: gold.

She gave me her information on a piece of scrap paper and said, “When you’re finished with what you’re working on, get in touch. I’d love to help if I can.”

I kept the paper in a bowl on my desk, along with pieces of sea glass and other inspirational items.

Many months later when I asked my husband to read the sixtieth version of one of the manuscripts, he said, “Just send it out. What are you waiting for?”

Just send it out. Just send it out? He made it sound so easy. 

I thought of the piece of paper, in the bowl. I wasn’t sure if the manuscript was ready but I was ready to send an e-mail. So I did. A couple of weeks later we, the woman from the large publishing company and I, met up for coffee. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect. But five minutes in, I knew exactly what I’d found. I was having coffee with a new friend. A mentor.

We talked about writing and mothering and where to “put the time.” But mostly we just talked. Halfway through our conversation, she said, “‘I’m going to tell you something I wish I’d learned earlier. You have to keep throwing arrows. Don’t waste time questioning yourself. Just keep throwing arrows.”

Keep throwing arrows. The advice from my new mentor was simple. And not unlike other advice I’d received over the years. The difference was, I heard it. And felt it. There was something about the sincerity in her eyes and the calm confidence in her voice. 

That’s the thing about working toward a deep down goal, it hurts. It is quite frankly easier to hear how difficult or unlikely success is than Keep Trying. Trying involves putting yourself out there, dangling the heart in open air, risking more failure, or worse disappointment. 

The sad reality is many of us give more time to other people’s dreams than our own. No one has ever had to tell me to Keep Throwing Arrows when it comes to my kids. As is well documented in this blog, I can be a little “pushy.”

And, I would never have survived in the world of fundraising if I had to be reminded to, Keep Asking. I have no problem raising money on others’ behalf, especially for a project I believe in.

But finding homes for my inner ramblings, daring to realize my publishing goals? The world is paved with writers. What makes me special? 

January is National Mentoring Month ( Yes, I thought the same thing when I saw it: Wow there really is a month for EVERYTHING.

But the truth is we all need mentors. It quite simply helps to have a caring, thoughtful person provide an encouraging nudge in the moments when we all feel less than special. 

So keep your eyes and ears open, and then return the favor. 

And above all: Keep Throwing Arrows.

The Gambler

“I’m not staying Mom, it’s not a class--it’s auditions,” John said, scally cap askew. He’d been there for maybe five minutes.

It wasn’t exactly dishonest. More like a conscious omission.

“I’ll be outside the entire time, it’s your choice, after today. If it’s not for you, that’s fine. Your choice,” I said. Of course the fact that I had driven him there and was willing to sit outside in a hallway lobby for two hours, decreed I had made my choice, for him. I wanted him to give it a try.

I departed leaving him in a small sea of nine, ten and eleven year olds, all of whom seemed to know the little community stage and each other. This was either a fabulous chess move or a check in the lousy Mom column.

John is an easy kid. He loves school and home. But every time I discuss signing him up, for anything, the response is the same,“No thanks.”

The one and only extra curricular activity he’s never questioned and actually asked to do again is Summer Music and Arts Camp. So when a friend mentioned that her kids had taken part in a production at a nearby children’s theatre, I hopped on-line to get some information. 

I did kinda sorta notice that it said the first class would be an “audition” and I did kinda sorta know that if I’d said, “John, want to audition for a musical?” he probably (okay definitely) would have said, “No thanks.” But I was also pretty sure the whole thing would be right up his alley. 

Familiar, upbeat music filled the room behind the door that was between John and I. Slumped on a cold metal chair, I was surrounded by colorful snapshots of performances gone by while picturing John in there either hating me or secretly happy to be there. Or both.

When it hit me.

I too was in fourth grade when my own mother traipsed me to the local Methodist church to audition for our town Hee-Haw Show. A community talent show fashioned after the real Sunday night Hee-Haw Show of the time.

I don’t remember if I asked to audition or if my mother had taken it upon herself to just take me. But I do remember stepping up, nerves swarming in my belly and belting out “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. Acapella. What a sight that must have been. 

Uh-oh. Was I one of “those parents” living the old days through my child? I stewed in that not-so-flattering thought for many moments.

The experience, my experience had been a good one. The first time I stood on the performance stage, with the spotlight glaring down, and my cowgirl hat atop my long blonde hair and belted out “On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere...” I was hooked. It was the beginning of a long line of stage experiences. Performances that shaped me and built confidence. Of course that didn’t mean the same would be true for John. 

A long ninety minutes later John exited with a big smile. He pointed to a folder. On top it said: Father Swan. He was clearly feeling very proud and excited. 

As we made our way to the car, I confessed, “I felt a little guilty leaving you in there but it seems like you liked it.” It was obvious he’d enjoyed himself. I was digging, perhaps for a “you were right Mom.”

“It’s like I always say,” he said. “Things happen for a reason.”

He does always say that, and it always makes me smile. But then he continued:

“And I guess there’s a reason God gave me a pushy mother.”