With the empty nest looming large, Linda channeled her love of writing into a professional career. She writes about parenting, kids in college, women in midlife, and the empty nest on her own blog and other big name publications like Huffington Post and The Washington Post.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in Los Angeles with my parents and older brother and sister. Our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived less than ten minutes from us. Our busy, noisy home was filled with an endless stream of friends, dogs, and tropical fish. Sunday afternoons were busy with visiting cousins and grandparents, going to the park, pony rides, board games, and drawing on huge sheets of paper that covered our entire dinette table. (I never really progressed past stick-figure art. Oh, well.)
Summers were spent almost entirely outside: swimming, dance-a-thons with our neighbor, and running through the sprinklers. Sundays were family and friend filled barbeques when my mom made her famous potato salad while my dad flipped burgers. All the kids stayed in the pool until their fingertips looked like raisins.
As the baby of three, I tested my parents’ patience and never failed to entertain them. By the time they had me, they were exhausted from having three kids in a little over four years. I still marvel at how my mom juggled so much.
I was an average teenager and an average student, spending more time socializing and passing notes in class than studying and thinking of my future. When I was a junior in high school, my father passed away six weeks after discovering he had pancreatic cancer. As you can imagine, his death had a profound effect on my life. He was a real estate broker by trade, but his love was writing. We shared a fondness for Erma Bombeck, Johnny Carson, root beer floats, and anything chocolate. And if he were alive today, he would be my biggest fan and would probably have his own blog, too.
When I began college, I studied business, though desperately craved working in the real world. So at the end of my sophomore year, I took what I thought would be a year off—it lasted 15. During that time I met my husband-to-be on a blind date, at the age of 22, and we married a year and half later. When our kids (a son, 25, in law school in L.A. and a daughter, 22, a recent college graduate working in NYC) were little, I went back to college to finish my undergraduate degree in psychology and creative writing.
When did you start to think about making a change?
I’ve been writing my entire life. I have boxes filled with diaries and journals going back to when I was a little girl. I used to pretend I had my own magazine (think of a Tiger Beat meets Cosmopolitan) and force friends and family to take my surveys, like “Do blondes really have more fun?”
When my kids were in elementary school I volunteered to work on their school’s annual fundraising gala. Rather than help on the coveted decorating committee, I volunteered to join the more low-key auction catalog blurb writers’ committee. The gala was quite an extravaganza and the auction catalog was filled with hundreds of items. My blurbs were bold and witty, which came as a surprise to those who thought I was reserved. (I even surprised myself!) The committee liked my work and let me run wild. I loved every minute of it.
I wrote a silly (aka awful) children’s book and tried unsuccessfully to get it published, which was probably a blessing for the publishing industry and the parents and children who might have had to read it.
There was always a plan to do something meaningful when my nest emptied. Although it seems as if I fell into blogging by accident, while searching for empty nest advice online, it truly was a natural progression. My youngest was finishing her sophomore year in high school. The empty nest was looming. The time was ripe to make a change.
What is your next act?
I am a writer.
Almost six years ago I created my blog, Carpool Goddess. I chose that name because I was mostly writing parenting humor pieces and was looking for something funny. Some of my most popular posts are “10 Universal truths about parenting a teenager”, “How to drop your child off at college without losing your mind” http://www.carpoolgoddess.com/dropping-your-child-off-at-college/, and “Aging gracefully? Oh, hell no!”
Expanding my freelance writing has been beyond exciting. When I began blogging, paid writing opportunities were few and far between. Many websites and brands offered “exposure” instead. Getting paid made me feel legitimate. I could call myself a writer without inwardly cringing.
One of my greatest accomplishments was having my first piece published on the Washington Post’s On Parenting site (which was a bucket list publication for me). I’ve also had pieces run on Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, which are publications I grew up reading. I still pinch myself when I see my byline. It’s been such a thrill. Please click through to read “Preparing kids for college is not for the weak” (Washington Post), “My dad was an old-fashioned husband-but he wanted more for me” (Good Housekeeping), and “I cry over pretty much everything” (Cosmopolitan).
Why did you choose this next act?
I always wanted to write professionally. Maybe have my own column or write a saucy beach read. Another reoccurring goal was to go back to school to get a masters degree in journalism. For decades these were the dreams that never wavered. Nothing else came close.
How did you start writing professionally?
I fell into writing accidentally (though I’m now a firm believer that there are no accidents). While searching the Internet for empty nest survival tips, I stumbled across an article about the secret of people who are lucky. Basically, they “make their own luck.” How’s that you say? Well, “they see things others don’t see, because opportunity is everywhere.” So, I thought I’d give this a shot and scanned the entire page I was reading to see if an opportunity was waiting for me.
As luck would have it, there was a small ad at the bottom of the page for parenting bloggers for Yahoo’s parenting site that was soon to expire. I submitted a writing sample figuring I would never hear back and three weeks later received my acceptance. That was the beginning of a professional writing career and a new life. I was now a “Parenting Guru,” which my kids thought was hilarious because, truly, I have no clue what I’m doing.
How supportive were your family and friends?
For almost a year I wrote anonymously as Carpool Goddess. Finally I showed my blog to a close friend who loved it and encouraged me to share my writing. My family was also excited and supportive of my new adventure. They were extremely happy I had something that I loved doing so much. It surprised me at first when people in town took the time to come up to me and tell me that they liked my writing. It is still such a thrill and incredibly gratifying. And when I start doubting myself I think of them and it keeps me writing.
What challenges did you encounter?
As a private person the hardest thing for me, and something I sometimes struggle with, was putting my words out there for all to see, which is why I blogged anonymously my first year. It was difficult for me to start sharing my writing under my own name, which I had to do when I began writing on Huffington Post. I literally broke out in hives when my first writing gig required that I create a Facebook page. I had always been an under-the-radar kind of gal and Facebook was not me at all. Also, as a new writer, I had to get used to having my work rejected and learning to bounce back and keep plugging away even when I’m not feeling inspired.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I’ve had fleeting moments when I thought of giving up because a rejection, or string of them, hit hard. Or because keeping up with writing and social media can seem exhausting and overwhelming at times. But I’ve always aimed high and with that comes the risk of having someone say “No.” Then after soothing myself with some chocolate or a vanilla soy latte, and reading about others growth and success from sheer grit and perseverance, I remind myself how far I’ve come and how much further I want to go.
I love what I do and getting kicked to the curb only makes me want to work harder. And I have found that right when I feel like I want to give up most, if I just hang in there a little while longer a new opportunity comes my way. Many bloggers that started their blogs when I did aren’t around anymore. And I’m so glad I hung in there. Great things can happen if you stick around long enough. Never give up.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned that I had to thicken my skin and not take rejections or nasty comments by trolls to heart. And I found that right when I feel like I’m ready to give up, an opportunity comes my way. So basically, keep moving forward, never give up, and don’t read the comments.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
Yes. I wish I had pursued writing when I was younger as I had always dreamed and not been so afraid to put my words and heart out for all to see. In high school I was much too shy and insecure to join the newspaper, even though my English teacher encouraged my writing. With age I’ve become more fearless, which seems to be a common sentiment amongst us, as we get older. I’m trying to care less what others think. Easier said than done.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Think of the things that make you happy. What did you want to always do but never had time for? Maybe it’s taking a class or starting a business. Ask yourself if you’re missing a creative or entrepreneurial outlet. I always loved writing, and as an extroverted-introvert love social media, so creating this career has been a dream come true.
What advice do you have for those interested in freelance writing?
Read everything. Write as much as you can. Lovingly stalk the work of those you admire: what they write, how they write, how they promote themselves. I have so many mentors who inspire me every day, many of whom have become friends. Don’t be discouraged when someone says you can’t do something or it sounds silly. My first year of blogging was a mixed bag of people who were excited about my writing adventure and those who would corner me in the supermarket and ask me what I’m hoping to achieve from this and had the nerve to ask if I’m making any money.
What resources do you recommend?
For the newbie blogger, I recommend visiting TheSitsGirls. They were my go-to website to learn everything I needed to know from blogging to social media.
Lovingly stalk your mentors and more experienced writers in your niche. See what they’re doing and learn how they do it, from writing techniques to how they use social media. Reading other writers work has always been a huge inspiration to me.
My favorite book on writing is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s chock full of brilliant ideas and funny to boot.
Go to blogger or writers conferences to learn and make connections. Becoming part of a community of like-minded people has been incredibly enriching and rewarding.
Also, Midlife Boulevard is a great source of midlife inspiration and a wonderfully supportive community of midlife women.
What’s next for you?
I’m a big fan of Bucket Lists and New Year’s Resolutions. And the top of my list every year, for years, was going to graduate school. What kept me from moving forward was worrying that I might be too old or not disciplined enough to take on this commitment. And, let’s be honest, having to study for the GRE (graduate school entrance exam) when I haven’t been in a math class in over thirty years was also a major deterrent. But when something keeps nagging at your soul you have to go for it. And finally, the time seemed right and the task of applying not as daunting, and I was ready to fully commit myself to the program.
In the two months between dropping my daughter off for her senior year in college and when she flew home for Thanksgiving, I completely immersed myself in studying, applying, and essay writing. The agony of waiting until March to hear back from USC was agonizing. I felt what every kid in America must feel as they sweat bullets waiting for college decisions.
I’ll never forget turning on my cell phone and finding an email notification that USC had made a decision. Fearing rejection, I waited an hour open it. Which didn’t seem like much time since I waited almost twenty years to apply. I didn’t really believe the words at first. In fact, I made my husband read it to me just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. Receiving an acceptance from USC for the Master of Journalism was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Another thrilling “first” for me this year was public speaking, which is something I always wanted to do, but was too terrified to do it. I literally broke out in hives the day I spoke with fellow young adult/empty nest blogger, Sharon Greenthal (Empty House Full Mind), to a group of first time college moms about the transition to college and freshman year. I had the best time! I LOVED it and could have talked all night, or at least until they threw me out. And now I can’t wait to speak again. So, if you’re looking for someone who has been there, done that and can speak about blogging and social media, kids going off to college or midlife reinvention, I’m your gal!
Contact Linda Wolff at Linda@carpoolgoddess.com