[Bestselling, prolific author Claire Cook (Seven Year Switch, Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography) is everywhere. Whether featured in print newspaper’s, magazine’s, or on online publication’s “must read” lists, Claire’s novels of being the best you can be resonate with a universal readership. And to think she’s become this popular with seven books in ten years. Yet why not? After living life with a buried dream, she finally “Just Did It!” by pursuing her dream of becoming a novelist. In today’s guest post, Claire describes her successful journey — one that we all can achieve too.]
I write because I can. I’d love to be a musician or a painter, but writing is the place where my urge to create and my ability intersect. I think we all have that place. For some, the trick is finding it. For others, it’s all about having the courage to live the dream.
I’ve known I was a writer since I was three. My mother entered me in a contest to name the Fizzies whale, and I won in my age group. It’s quite possible that mine was the only entry in my age group, since “Cutie Fizz” was enough to win my family a six-month supply of Fizzies tablets (root beer was the best flavor) and a half dozen turquoise plastic mugs with removable handles.
At six I had my first story on the Little People’s Page in the Sunday paper (about Hot Dog, the family dachshund, even though we had a beagle at the time — the first clue that I’d be a novelist and not a journalist) and at sixteen I had my first front page feature in the local weekly. I majored in film and creative writing in college, and fully expected that the day after graduation, I would go into labor and a brilliant novel would emerge, fully formed, like giving birth.
It didn’t happen. I guess I knew how to write, but not what to write. Looking back, I can see that I had to live my life so I’d have something to write about, and if I could give my younger self some good advice, it would be not to beat myself up for the next couple of decades.
But I did. At the same time, I pretended I wasn’t feeling terrible about not writing a novel, and did a lot of other creative things. I wrote shoe ads for an in house advertising agency for five weeks, became continuity director of a local radio station for a couple of years, taught aerobics and did some choreography, helped a friend with landscape design, wrote a few freelance magazine pieces, took some more detours. Eventually, I had two children and followed them to school as a teacher, where I taught everything from multicultural games and dance to open ocean rowing to creative writing.
Years later, when I was in my forties and sitting in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice at 5 AM, it hit me that I might live my whole life without ever once going after my dream of writing a novel. So, for the next six months I wrote a rough draft in the pool parking lot, and it sold to the first publisher who asked to read it.
My first novel was published when I was 45. At 50, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie version of my second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. I’m now 55, and my seventh novel, Seven Year Switch, is off to a great start, with beach read shout outs from USA Today, The New York Times, and the New York Post. I sometimes take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the career I almost didn’t have.
So many readers have approached me after book events or emailed me through my website, ClaireCook.com, or messaged me on Facebook or Twitter to share their buried dreams. They tell me that my own journey has been an inspiration to them. I love the idea that someone reading this right now might take a minute to think about dusting off her own dream.
Seven Year Switch is the story of a single mom whose husband ran off to join the Peace Corps. Seven years later, he’s ba-ack – proving he can’t even run away reliably! If there’s an overarching theme in my seven novels, it’s that each of my main characters is trying to reinvent herself. I think that’s what I bring to the table from my own life, and I think it’s something most of us face at one point or another. Here are some tips to help you find what’s next for you.
Self. You can’t have self-awareness, self-confidence, or any of those other good self words until you decide to like yourSELF, and who you really are.
Soul Searching. Sometimes it’s just getting quiet enough to figure out what you really want; often it’s digging up that buried dream you had before life got in the way.
Serendipity. When you stay open to surprises, they often turn out to be even better than the things you planned. Throw your routine out the window and let spontaneity change your life.
Synchronicity. It’s like that saying about luck being the place where preparation meets opportunity. Open your eyes and ears – then catch the next wave that’s meant for you!
Strength. Life is tough. Decide to be tougher. If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters (204 if you’re in Japan!)
Sisterhood. Connect, network, smile. Build a structure of support, step by step. Do something nice for someone – remember, karma is a boomerang!
Of course you can get some (no matter what the Rolling Stones said.) Call it satisfaction, fulfillment, gratification, but there’s nothing like the feeling of setting a goal and achieving it. So make yours a good one!