Hey there, friends. I’ve come to realize that, just like me, so many people out there are holding onto writer-dreams that are waiting to be realized. I thought I’d tell my story about my writer-dream to kick off an off-and-on blog series featuring writer-dreamers.
It took a lot to get me here… to get me back to my writer-dream. Did my dream die? Oh, no, it didn’t die. But like trees in the winter, my long-held writer-dream went dormant. There’s always been an inkling of life underneath the surface, but for all anyone could see – it did look dead.
Let me tell you the story. This is a cautionary tale for all you writer-dreamers out there. I dare to hope it inspires someone out there to remember and rekindle their own writer-dreams.
My Writer-Dreamer Story
When I was a little girl, I wrote all the time. I wrote in spiral-bound notebooks, in books I made by stapling construction paper together, on the backs of pages of homework. Anywhere I could write, there was a story. And with every story, there was an illustration. My very first story I can remember writing was about triplets named Jenny, Nick, and Michael. I think I wrote it in Kindergarten. And I can still remember just how much I enjoyed writing that story.
Fast forward to 5th grade, I can picture writing a Jenny, Nick, and Michael book, probably about the tenth in what was now a series, during indoor recess alongside my best friend Beth, who was writing her own book at the time. Okay, fast forward a little more – I can picture sitting in science class in high school and having a little free time, writing again, this time about new characters named Noel and Darius, who were hiking the Appalachian Trail. Probably around that time, too, I was writing the story of Marran Mimidae on our computer at home. Later in high school, I’d begin writing the story of Darby and Rory, which I also remember writing while I was supposed to be studying for finals at the end of my first semester of college.
It was late at night and just my desk lamp was on in the room. My roommate had friends over and they were studying for their Nursing finals, and me? I was ignoring my own finals and writing my story in a frenzy. My majors were Writing and History, too, with the goal of becoming a young adult historical fiction author. And yet it would be over the winter break after this blissful night of writing that I’d decide to change my major… All I can remember is sitting in my hometown Panera Bread agonizing over the decision and finally making it – I couldn’t risk my college education on a dream, one that I wasn’t sure I could bring to life. I doubted myself. I doubted that my dreams were really worth pursuing too, especially when they weren’t sensible. At some point, I’d have to grow up and stop chasing that childhood dream of becoming an author. So, when I went back to campus, in early 2005, I changed my major to Elementary Education, a much more sensible career choice, with a safe and predictable future.
I can’t remember any more times of writing in such a daze at that college, nor the next college I transferred to, that is, until my student teaching time in 2009. By this time, I was married and had a baby. Now I was commuting nearly two hours every day to the other side of the city to the school where I was student teaching. And one major focus that semester was Writing Workshop. I was teaching my 4th graders to write creatively. I really can’t tell you exactly what sparked it, but somehow during this time, I was back in a frenzied writing state, with a brand new story idea. I can picture notebooks and papers and pencils all over my living room floor as I mapped out the initial idea for the story. I sketched my characters and their names in the margins of my lecture notes. I listened to what became my story’s theme song on my commute. And I remember one day having a snow day and spending it at my computer writing my story. My computer faced our backyard and I watched as the snow fell, and a snowy scene made its way into my story. I was in the zone. It was pure magic.
Then spring semester hit. My last semester of college. Now I was student teaching on my own in a 1st-grade classroom in another school, still about an hour away from home. Stress hit me hard that semester, and the magic of my writing stagnated until it just stopped. And then, right as I graduated, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that hit me hard, all the stress and struggle heaped on me as I left college with a degree I simply didn’t want, took its toll. I never did end up getting a classroom teaching job because of the diagnosis.
Yet the diagnosis somehow ended up being a blessing in disguise. It kept me from entering into a job I never wanted. I had really only turned toward the education field out of seeming necessity. So I went to work as a private tutor for a while after college, until the stress took its toll there, too. I left that field and went into another but was unhappy there, too. It was during this time that I turned back to writing – and somehow, somehow, somehow, I finished the book I’d started writing during student teaching – the one I’d written on my snow day instead of working on schoolwork, the one I’d mapped out on the living room floor, and plotted for with my husband on long country drives, the one I’d dreamed about. In the fall of 2012, I self-published my first novel, Going over Home. I was so proud.
Then over the next few years, I wrote its sequel, Going over Jordan, and released it in 2015. This one I wrote in the margins while working in a high school as a special education instructional assistant. This turned out to be an enjoyable job, as I was working with one student as her 1:1 aide, alongside her nurse. Throughout 2014 I wrote the manuscript of Going over Jordan and every week her nurse would eagerly read my updates as I worked in class with my student. It was a wonderful job, and I thank Nurse Beth, Nurse Tamera, and my student for encouraging my dream at the time.
After the release of Going over Jordan, I started working on writing the third book in the series, Wayfaring. It was during this time that my dreams finally took such a hit that they started to go dormant. Once again, doubt crept in. I had published two novels – two young adult historical fiction novels, just like I’d wanted to all along – but still, that doubt came over me to the point where I just gave up my writing again. For too long it sat. I couldn’t go near the computer or write in a notebook if I wanted to, to write. I was scared. Really? I was terrified. I was demoralized. I felt beaten. I felt that little girl writer-dream in me start to wither. I still kept feeling that it wasn’t realistic. That it wasn’t sensible. It was… a waste of time. Somehow I convinced myself it was a waste of time.
Yet bits of it seeped out. In 2017 I released a children’s book based on the memoir of an ancestor of mine. I started blogging – I guess now looking back I had to write somehow, even if it wasn’t creative writing. In 2017, too, I did my best to write Wayfaring again, but then I scrapped it all over again. In that year I did start writing a new book – my family history memoir. I published it quietly in 2019. I was afraid to make waves with it, feeling so afraid of my writer-self then. I let it go, hardly read except by family members and friends. Then a letter came in the mail from a family member detailing all the reasons how the story was wrong, and I silently pulled the book from the marketplace. And I went about my day and no one even noticed what I’d done.
When the pandemic hit the U.S. hard in March 2020, I was teaching ESL online… and not writing. I was ignoring every inkling of wanting to write, all due to my shame, fear, and doubt. But then, I got the teensiest tiny spark of an idea to help kids cope during this new time of social distancing and distance learning and isolation. I launched a new business called Write Back When, to teach kids writing about the past. The only problem was: I myself wasn’t writing. I was still terrified of it. I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. So there was a disconnect, and it started to come up every time I went to teach writing. I would have anxiety attacks and too often had to cancel my classes. It went so far that I had to close a class in the middle of the schedule and shut down my business. I could feel that fear, doubt, and shame so deeply. So intensely. It was too much. Too much for me.
But spring always comes to dormant trees. For me, my winter lasted years. During that time I bounced from project to project, even job to job, searching for something that would work for me. I thought for sure it was Write Back When, but without writing myself, it couldn’t be. And the problem there was, I was approaching that business as an educator first, and not as a writer. And it was hurting me all over again, just one more way of me choosing education over my writing dream.
Today? I’m writing. I am a writer. I am over fifty pages into a new novel. I am a new student at The Institute of Children’s Literature, and I was just accepted into a Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA program. I start in January. I am embracing my writer self. I am accepting my writer self. Sometimes I still want to bury my head and hide. Sometimes the fear pops up, and the doubt creeps in. But I’m doing my best to just keep writing. I remember that little girl and her dreams, and how they are still my dreams today. And I remember there are kids out there now just like I was the kid dreaming all day long in story ideas, sitting with notebooks sprawled across my bed, writing away in a happy frenzy. I want every little kid like that to hold onto their writer-dreams. I want every young writer-dreamer to grow into an older version of a writer-dreamer, writing and dreaming their days away. Because it may not make much sense in this world, but to squash our writer-dreams is to deny ourselves, to suppress our deepest longing, to turn our backs on our true selves. It hurt me, deeply, and the freedom and joy I feel now as I write, as I go about my day with the knowledge that I AM A WRITER, it’s indescribable.
I’m back into myself, I’m back to who I was always meant to be. I’m writing. I’m a writer.
I want that for you, writer-dreamer. Embrace that freedom and joy, embrace your true self. Keep dreaming. And keep writing. I’m here for you, cheering you on all the way. You got this. You really do. You got this.
Signed, Yours truly,
Katie Andrews Potter
Are you a writer-dreamer, too? I’d love to share your story. Connect with me and we’ll get you on the blog. For now, make sure you subscribe, and you’ll receive a free short story and be in on all my news and updates!