When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. Or a unicorn.

Tonight, I attended my niece’s pre-school graduation. I’ve made fun of preschool and kindergarten graduations for years. Forgive me – I didn’t know what I was missing! Watching thirty-some five-year-olds sing and dance in miniature graduation robes was adorable. But the high point for me was the list of aspirations the teachers read as each student crossed the stage to accept their diploma.

“Grace wants to be a wrestler when she grows up.” “Henry previously wanted to be a scientist, but has now decided to be a ninja.” There were many with very traditional goals of becoming doctors, veterinarians, teachers and engineers. We saw a future banker, dentist, several police officers, a firefighter. One little girl wants to be a zoologist.

Then there were the ones that reminded me what it’s like to be five and live in a world of make-believe. My niece aspires to being ballet instructor. A puppy trainer. A boy band back-up dancer. A horse hair braider. A rock star. An ice skating princess. A lifeguard. The queen. And a castle guard. And, yes, a unicorn.

Lately, I’ve been rethinking (again) which manuscript to tackle first. And I’d come to the realization that although there are some bigger, harder, more emotional stories I will eventually write, writing should be fun. It should be like playing make-believe.

I heard several authors mention recently that they set out to write the book they wanted to read. Which makes total sense! So I decided to define what my perfect book would be, as a reader.

I listed out the last fifteen books I read and it wasn’t what I expected – there was no literary fiction among the last fifteen. It was about evenly split between fiction and nonfiction. Multiple young adult fiction books in the mix. The overall themes seemed obvious – tales of survival, fantasy or dystopian society, and a maybe a little romance for good measure. Jane Austen meets Into Thin Air meets The Hunger Games.

Instantly I knew which scrap of a story idea I was going to write. It’s one I’d shelved after one chapter a couple of years ago and I won’t give the details yet, but I’m so excited to play in this make-believe world!

I’m forcing myself not to think beyond the first chapter until I get it all down on paper, but I haven’t been this excited to write in ages. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to feel like? A story I’m so excited to explore that I’m giddy with excitement to write it because until I write it, I won’t know how it ends and what happens along the way.

I feel like I’m five years old again, sitting on the playroom floor, making up elaborate worlds and storylines where Brother Bear and Smurfette live next door to Strawberry Shortcake and her older brother, Mork. Where it’s not strange at all that a stuffed peach’s best friend is a Care Bear. And no one questions why a horse is driving a pink convertible.

Funny that no one said tonight that they wanted to be a writer (maybe that will change once they learn how to read!). Because the secret I want to whisper is – being a writer means you don’t have to choose. You can be a scientist and a ninja. A teacher and a race car driver. An astronaut and a unicorn.

(The pic is me at Johnson Space Center a couple years ago, playing astronaut for the day.)

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