When I was 9 years old, Madonna released the album Like a Virgin.
I had just discovered WZPL, the pop music radio station in my hometown, and I was a Madonna superfan immediately.
Overlooking content that was thematically questionable for the under-10 crowd, my mom bought me the Like a Virgin cassette tape.
I played it over and over and over, day and night. (My little red boom box had never worked so hard.)
I saved up my allowance to buy a poster of the album cover for my wall.
I mined my mom’s junk jewelry drawer, donning layers and layers of necklaces and bracelets. I tied my hair back with a piece of baby-pink lace. I put on my floofiest skirt.
Then I danced and sang my little heart out for whoever would watch or listen. (Cue the deadpan faces of my parents and big sister, who could only feign enthusiasm for so long.)
Because I didn’t just love Madonna. I wanted to be Madonna.
I’m a pretty good singer, but I suffice it to say I don’t have Madonna’s pipes. And given that I was only nine, I also had zero understanding of how the music business worked.
How Madonna’s rise to stardom was a series of massively extraordinary events, one after another.
How scores of other pop singers were working their tails off at that very moment to have her level of fame and fortune, with mixed results.
How Life, for reasons we may never know, had decided to christen Madonna a mega-star above all the rest.
My mom? She knew all this.
(Vaguely, anyway. She was not tracking Madonna in particular, whose sheer genius she did not have the eyes to see. Her ambivalence about the star was the first time in my young life where I began to question my own mother’s sanity and good taste.)
But even as I dreamed bigger than my voice would ever take me, Mom did not let on.
She didn’t say, “You’re not as good as Madonna. And even if you were, you have no idea how much hard work, stamina, and great good fortune would be required to become a superstar like she is. You should focus your attention elsewhere.”
Instead she said, “Let’s sign you up for some performance classes.”
She said, “Let’s get you into the church choir.”
She said, “Why don’t you audition for the school musical, and see what happens?”
I did all of these things, and I enjoyed every minute of them.
Some of my best childhood memories are set at choir camp, in theater classes and—shout out to all the Glee fans—in high school showchoir. (Jazz hands!)
In the course of time, I saw where I fit in the hierarchy of performers. I learned, entirely on my own, that am a better-than-average-but-not-superstar-quality singer; a competent dancer; and a pretty terrible actor.
In other words, I discovered for myself that I am not Madonna.
(Okay fine, Madonna and I might be neck-and-neck in the acting department. Touché.)
The thing was, nobody had to tell me I wasn’t her equal. I learned it on my own, by walking the path of performance.
Looking back, would I exchange all those happy memories of performing, just because I’m not “the best”?
No freaking way.
Fast forward 30+ years and here I am, in the same position my Mom once was, for scores of people who dream of becoming published authors.
They come to me and kn literary every single day wanting to know, “Am I the transformational writing equivalent of Madonna?”
Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s “probably not.” But most of the time, it’s not my job to answer that question.
Authors who are drawn to me and kn literary are writing for so many reasons other than bestsellerdom.
They’re writing for the joy of it.
They’re writing to heal and grow.
They’re writing to help others, even if their circle of influence is modest.
They—perhaps I can just go ahead and say you—are writing because Life wants you to write, the way Life wanted me to sing and dance.
There is no way of knowing, in advance, where your writing adventure will take you.
You simply have to walk the path in front of you. Maybe that will take you toward traditional publishing; great! Maybe it will guide you to self-publish; fab! Either way, you have to make the journey.
See, the outcome is not the thing.
Following your creative dream is worth the price of admission, no matter where you end up.
So today, I say, Let’s sign you up for some writing classes.
I say, Let’s get you a book coach.
I say, Why don’t you enter that writing contest, and see what happens?
Anything else you need to know, Life will most certainly teach you along the way, in perfect timing.
(And, some writers legitimately want more information. They want to know, for example, whether they are a good enough writer to become an author for a living. If this sounds like you, here are three clues to tell if you’re a gifted writer.)