NEVER TOO LATE: Letter From The Editor


Letter From The Editor

Never Too Late!

-January 3rd, 2014-

Dear Readers,

2014 has begun.

For this “Literary Rat” the first days of the new year are particularly poignant for me more so than years past.

As some in my inner circle may already know, I made the difficult decision not to retake the GED, a test for students (In the U.S.)  who weren’t able to graduate high school to attain certification which allows the student to be eligible for accredited college admission, and despite exceptions, it’s getting increasingly harder to begin a meaningful and reasonably profitable career without going to college, and as of January 1st, 2014, the test resets and becomes harder and more expensive to take, I took the test in 2012 but didn’t pass a few areas.

If I take the test again, I’ll be paying more to take it and I’ll have to begin again, and it will be harder, and desptie what some people told me, it wasn’t “Easy” before the change, and at this time, I can’t stomach taking it again.

I’ve never been a great tester.

But the weight and importance of this test weighed heavily on me.

It sickens me at times that this country, America, my country, is putting more stock in testing in general more than the actual living, breathing, people who take them. That teachers across the board are being constrained and chastised for not bringing up test scores more than giving the joy and tools to learn effectively. 

It’s downright insulting that we on the one hand put prospective teachers through a decade or more of schooling and training only to get them into a classroom of kids or teens, and then tell them how and what to teach like they spent the last 10 or 20 years of their lives and no NOTHING about teaching.

Why should all teachers be marginalized because a few aren’t effective? 

It takes a lot of courage to admit this. Because I’m a novelist at my core, and a lot of what I write is for children, this absent feather in my proverbial cap is especially hard to bear. But in 2014, I’ve made a necessary decision that will get my head and heart in better unison, 

As many authors, educators. and avid readers already know, author Kate DiCaMillo (Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Desperaux) is the newest “Ambassador for Young People’s Literature” and as past ambassadors have done, each author has particularly focus or theme they champion during the time this period. 

if I ever hold that title, I know I have three competing ideas for what my focus as embassador. Until I have to make that decision, I’ll use T.A.A. to champion a specific focus for the year. That focus is in the text under the image in this letter I type-


Too often we put deadlines on ourselves to motivtate ourselves to take things seriously. Or we have to live with deadlines set by outside pressures, be it school, work, parenting, etc. But speaking solely for myself, more often than not deadlines only add pressure, pain, and guilt that I don’t need. It doesn’t make me a better writer. It doesn’t make me a better person. It only produces stress that keeps me from making any effort at all. Or I second guess myself so much it’s really not funny. 

I may very well have Charlie Brown beat in terms of how wishy-washy I can be at times…

But from this year onward, I will make my personal AND Professional motto be: Never Too Late

Our newest Ambassador for Young People’s Literature knows a thing or two about the words “Never Too Late.” It’s no secret many great writers today and in the past knew from an early age they’d be writers somehow, someway, but many like Kate came to her journey as a writer later in life.

As impatient as I am, and as much as the writing process demands patience, something authors who’ve been through the slogs of querying and drafting book after book for YEARS with no sales or reaching other key milestones too easily forget is that some of that impatience is positive!

While I could count off countless authors who didn’t publish until they were 50+, that’s really not the point I wish to make, the point I make in saying all this is that it’s not bratty impatience that spurs our desire to be authors, it’s that we know we don’t have forever to achieve our goals as writers.

Despite what some “Old Pros” in the business say, I’m full aware of my mortality, and while I can’t speak for all twenty-somethings, I’m speaking solely for me, and just because I may have more “Time” than many of my author friends who are as old or older than my sixty-something grandmother (my stand-in parent) that doesn’t mean my impatience comes from wanting things “Handed” to me without working for them.

I worked 10 YEARS for my first sale. As much as the phrase “One book doesn’t make you writer” is true, you still have to start somewhere, and I wish older writers would understand that some of the impatience is not because we don’t want to work hard. But it’s really hard to START. We can’t be authors without readers, and we can’t reach readers without our work being tight, and despite the advances in self-publishing, not everyone can afford that option, and for those of us who can’t write nonfiction, that only limits where we can submit our work.

Just like there’s ageism for experienced seniors, there’s ageism for us “Rookies” too!

But to all my honorable elders, please hear this, YOUTH ISN’T EVERYTHING!

You also need to understand that while some things may be easier than when you went to school and started working, a lot has changed, and if you don’t fit a certain mold, sometimes you get left behind, please don’t lump us in with the people who did give up without trying. I understand the need for accountability among teachers and students, but when people start DYING over stress from test scores, to quote Miss Clevel from the first animated Madeline special-

“Something is NOT right. Something is Quite Wrong. Something is NOT right! And so…I sing this song…”

What we have in youth we lack in experience, and it’s getting harder to get experience if you don’t meet certain criteria. 

In closing, please understand I’m not against education, but my experience is no less valid than those who got the kind of education that others like myself would envy.

I’m grateful I learned to read and do some basic math (Which I’m still sketchy with at times) but didn’t have many warm and empowering moments as many of my author friends did, and many of them are retired teachers or are still teaching, and I hope nothing I’ve said comes off as dishonoring your profession. Teachers the world over are doing or have done a job I could never do. 

As hard and sobering the road of a writer is, I at least have more of the freedom and self-direction many teachers today do not, and those who can spark engagement and joy in learning to kids and teens, in spite of the “Testing Absolute” environment many of us live in are nothing short of heroes.

So while I do my best to put the pain of my school experience behind me, I press on to forge my own path, and hope I won’t have to rely on family or government aide indefinitely, I will do my best to let go of the guilt and pain I had from my education experience, and not let it stop me from doing something with my life. 

While self-education can’t solve all my problems, it will serve me, even if it can’t pay my bills and taxes: It still matters.

Self-education HAS VALUE.

I HAVE VALUE. Whether I have degrees or not.

While I wish I were more self-reliant financially, I’m doing okay, and one day I will do better than okay, that’s in my reach, and some days it takes extra special effort on my part to remember and believe that.

Take Care, and remember, it’s NEVER TOO LATE for you, whatever you want to do to better your own life.

Your Literary Rat,

Taurean J. Watkins


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  • My 86 yr. old mother is a great example of Never Too Late! She made the decision to finally become a writer at age 85 and has published two books with 2 more contracts for other books! Now to me, THAT is courage and determination to never give up.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Allyn, I always appreciate thoughtful comments from readers. Indeed your mother is a solid example of my new personal motto.

  • sherry alexander

    My youngest daughter didn’t fit the school mold either. She tried the GED route, and didn’t pass. Her siblings all loved school, found their place, and got their degrees. I know she felt valueless sometimes. Then at age 26 she found an on line program that worked for her. Got her diploma from HS, and began a new career in physical therapy that she loves when she was 30. Proof to me that it is never too late.

    • Thanks for sharing, Sherry. That gives me needed hope. Give my highest regards to your daughter, from someone who had a similar past, and will work toward a better future this year more fiercely than years past.

  • You can do it Taurean. Look how far you’ve come so far.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Terrie, I’m not giving up, and I do feel optomositic about this year, I just had to get this bit og angst and anger out.

  • Great message, Taurean. It’s definitely not too late, especially for you. You’re still so young. I have no doubt we’ll see great things from you. :)

  • By our Twitter conversation today, you already know how much I agree with this post!

    But let me share a related conversation I had with my teaching partner earlier this week. She expressed concern about one of our shared students. He does no homework, and phone calls home have resulted in an angry mother who basically said, “It’s your job to teach him, not mine. If he doesn’t do the homework, keep him in for recess.”

    The mother has no interest in making him do it, and seems to think recess is long enough for him to get it done. (It’s not.) We already suspect that his home life does not have an atmosphere conducive for learning. I pointed out to my partner that, for all we know, it’s impossible for him to do any work there.

    “But he’s not meeting any standards,” she said. “I’m worried I’m not doing enough.”

    Then I pointed out a few things. Compared to last year, this student is doing well. Last year he hated school and was constantly in trouble for fighting. Teachers reported that “he didn’t care about anything.” This year, through whatever miracle, both of us made a connection with him. He tries hard to please us. No, he doesn’t do his homework, but he works hard in class to try to get his work done there. He shows the completed work to us proudly (even though it is frequently all wrong.) He brags about having a teacher who’s a “famous author.” (That’s supposed to be me!) He helps my partner teacher with small tasks around the classroom. He has not been in trouble for fighting all year. He likes school and participates in class.

    NONE of that is measured on a test.

    When he is tested, it will look like we failed miserably.

    But what do YOU think? :D

    • Thanks for stopping by, Dianne. I appreciate you taking the time to share that story. I’m trying to foster community here and your comment is a great start for that here on T.A.A.

      All I can say regarding is that kid sounds like a prime example of what testing ALONE can’t measure, and I still stand by what I say in my letter above.

      That said, I know another teacher who feels common core isn’t as almighty as it gets portrayed, and while I think she makes good points, I personally feel too many in education forget that learning isn’t ONLY about testing, but empowering students, and I’m truly sorry that the current culture among educators is so stifling.

      While I’m not excusing kids who don’t at least try to make an effort (Generally, I don’t specifically mean the student you cited above) it hurts me to hear of stories where even the type-A overachievers are feeling overwhelmed and frankly no less stressed than many capable, hard-working college grads who’ve gone YEARS unable to get a job or the pay is so low it’s insulting.

      When we start traumatizing the kids who make the effort, even go above and beyond, and get them jaded about education, we’ve really hit bottom. Wouldn’t you agree?

      The main reason I don’t write much nonfiction is because of my all too real (However irrational) fear of research, and being held to high standards, not just by history buffs, but the readers who know the material intimately and proud of it!

      It’s no different than if I wrote about Star Wars and get lectured by a trillion fans for not getting X detail right (I’m probably the only male on Earth who has not seen any Star Wars movie in full, not bashing it, just not my world, okay?)

      Yes, I do research for my fiction, but if I’m not writing about a real place or person, there’s leeway you rarely get in nonfiction, and I’m struggling enough with getting the story right, and part of why I don’t write historical fiction, as much as I love it as a reader.

      I’m too progressive to get into the mindset of a person or culture that treat women like dirt or kids are more marginalized than the student you described in your story, even if they did their homework!

      Again, I’m sorry the current culture in education is forcing you out, I know the road to being a teacher is NEVER easy and continues to get more onerous. But to end on a more positive note, you might want to listen to this-

      This is a great podcast about children’s publishing and I think Marcie Colleen’s interview will at least bring some solace regarding, having been a teacher herself she can understand your frustration on a deeper level than I can, as I’m speaking from my “Jaded Student” perspective, and as I said on Twitter, I’m doing my best to put that pain behind me, but it’s what allows to me to see this from the personal side, not just the practical side.