Writing is My Pearl

Julia Child RulesKaren Karbo asked me to participate in a “Live Like Juila” celebration and write a post inspired by one of her new book’s chapters.  The book is Julia Child Rules – Lessons on Savoring Life and my chapter, “#9 Make the World Your Oyster” was fun and interesting, two of my favorite things. A deadly combination. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it, and heartily suggest you get a copy yourself!

I decided to share the story of how I lost me and then found me again after lying about how cool I was to a national magazine editor, doing a lot of driving, being a boring nerd and having a life-changing dream.

Writing is My Pearl

I always wanted to be a writer. When I was really little, I wrote “Winnie the Pooh,” complete with crayon drawings. Oh, those idyllic days before copyright infringement. Actually, it was a slightly different and infinitely worse story using the Pooh character, so really, I was ahead of my time, Star Wars franchise speaking-wise. Disney should have hired me on the spot.

Through high school and college I wrote stories, authored a book or two I never really sent anywhere, won a couple little contests and freelanced for magazines. I thought I’d made it when Steve Hawk, editor for Surfer Magazine called me to let me know that not only were they going to buy my “Colleges for Surfers” article, but that their East Coast Editor had recently left and would I be interested in being the East Coast Editor of Surfer Magazine?


Surfer's Guide to Florida

Actually, the thing I remember most clearly about that conversation was that I called him back from a phone booth. A phone booth. Where did I get that kind of loose change to call California from a phone booth?

My second clearest memory is Mr. Hawk, just about to hang up, thinking to ask: “You do surf, right?”

“Of course!” I chirped.

…I’d never surfed was the rest of that sentence. “Of course I’ve never surfed.”

White lie or unfinished sentence? Too tough to call.

Sorry about that, Hawk, you hired a dork.

Thus began five glorious years of driving up and down the East Coast, hanging out with pre-pubescent surfer kids and staying in hotels I wouldn’t stay in now if I was on the lam. I was at Surfer’s tiny East Coast helm for the beginning of Kelly Slater’s career and got to interview him and hang out at the same parties, which is a fun fact to tell people, but really… that and $9.99 will get me a coffee at Starbucks.

surfer's guide treasure mapBut even with my stunning $600 a month salary (and no, it wasn’t 1920 – it just wasn’t what you call a “real job”) it was tough to make ends meet. Freelance writing, even before everyone in the world did it, was not a ticket to riches. So I wrote a book called The Surfer’s Guide to Florida which was published by Pineapple Press and though it sold out pretty quickly, it made me very little money.  I turned my research for the book into a series of surf maps, and taught myself to use Photoshop and Illustrator to lay them out. Then I drove up and down the coast selling decorative treasure maps of surf spots.

Equipped with my new Photoshop skills, I realized I could make more money if I offered to layout brochures for people in addition to writing.  Then I discovered AOL and thought, “I can probably make these web page thingies.”

Next thing you know, I’d stopped writing. I was a web page designer in a time when everyone wanted a web page.

I quickly hired a bunch of people to work for Vansant Creations Web Development, just to make sure I personally would not keep any of the money from this little boom.

Whew. Close one.

The Internet became corporate web sites to me. I didn’t pay any attention to the web’s more fun and social aspects. You’d think, as a writer, I would have jumped on the blogging bandwagon before the word “blog” was even uttered, but no. Writing Amy was dead. My life was just one Chamber of Commerce Meeting after another. Even when my business radically slowed after 9/11, and I ceased hiring, eventually becoming a company of one, I remained Web Development Amy.

It’s how I afforded food. Don’t judge.

Then, in 2009, I had a dream. It was stupid, and made less sense the more I tried to recall it, but it was a story. An awesome, epic story. I woke up with this need to write it out as a novel.

That’s when it hit me: I hadn’t written anything in 13 years. THIRTEEN YEARS. What the hell happened to me? What happened to Writing Amy, the girl who always knew what she was going to do for a living?

I started working on my contemporary fantasy novel. The writing wheels were creaky.

About that time, someone on Facebook (which I had grudgingly joined only a year or so earlier) said they thought my posts were funny and I should start a blog.

A blog? I’d heard the word of course, but Web Page Amy hadn’t given it a second thought. But reborn Writing Amy… YES! A BLOG!

All the blogs I researched had funny titles that vaguely revealed their author’s passions. I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself to a topic, so I thought I’d keep it broad and just describe my life with Mike. I chose “Kid-Free Living” for a title. After all, Mike and I seemed to have a lot more spare time than our friends, which usually translated into fun. Plus, the domain was available. I didn’t think about the fact that people would assume my blog was a giant diatribe against having kids, but ah well. Too late.

So what does all this have to do with Julia and oysters?

I’m starting late. I’m starting over. But Writing Amy is back. I feel like I lost a limb and had it replaced. I’ve got one novel I’m shopping to agents and another I’m working on now. And every time my blog starts to wear me out, I double down and find a way to re-energize my efforts. At the moment, I’m trying to add more content from other sources and turn Kid-Free Living into more of a humor magazine of aggregated content, anchored by my own weekly humor posts. Next week I’ll turn it into a ice cream shop. I dunno. I’m making it all up as I go along.

The odds are 99.1% pure that I won’t get rich and famous this time around as a writer either, but my writing world is the pearl in my oyster again. My brain is on fire with creativity and fun again. I’ve made the world my oyster again, even if I’m they only one who eats it.

And I feel whole.

Amy Vansant
Latest posts by Amy Vansant (see all)

21 Responses

  1. Abby

    I love Julia simply because it gives me hope that I might actually be “successful” at something when I’m in my 40s. That gives me about 8-10 years to get my crap together and decide what that “something” is. Lord knows it’s not cooking…


  2. Beduwen

    Good for you! The fact that you didn’t surf and yet somehow ended up editing the mag is hilarious….just goes to show that nothing really makes sense.


  3. Joy Weese Moll (

    Love this story of your journey through life. Julia Child, for me, is the patron saint for late bloomers or, in your case, re-bloomers. Good luck with your novel.

    I’m also kid-free and consider it an unusual fact of my life rather than a grand social statement.


  4. Karen Karbo

    Oh Amy! I hope your novel is about being an expert on surfing without being a surfer. I’d buy that one in hardback and give copies to friends. I’m glad you’re back with bells on (a saying older than phone booths) and it really is true that if Julia teaches us anything, it’s that we’re never too old to have at it. I think it’s particularly true of writing, which requires so much sitting, thinking, and in general being wise (and a wise ass.)


  5. Michele Drier

    Oh wow, surfing! Next time the gods align and Maverick is scheduled, come on over to the Left Coast. I know a great bar just up the road with an outdoor patio…we can watch from there. Or maybe not watch. Actually, I’m glad you’ve reinvented yourself. Writing Amy is cool.


  6. caren

    Great story! I found so much of myself in it. I’m still trying to figure out that “whole” business though. Right now I’m about 2/3rds of myself.

    I’ll get there….


  7. Lance

    One of my best friends in high school was born and raised in cocoa beach, fla, and grew up with Kelly Slater.

    During spring break in 1989, when I was 18 1/2, we went there and went to a party at Kelly’s parents house. He was a nice guy who enjoyed his, um, leafy natural vegetables? did I massage that okay?

    also, I learned to surf that vacation…which was gnarly, brah


    • Amy Vansant

      I was at his house in 91 or 92 – we just missed each other!

      That happened a lot to me… the same time I sold my surf maps at a shop in Boyton Beach and the girl who went and got me the owner was … drumroll… MIKE’S GIRLFRIEND who he lived with at the time. He lived a block away. I might have even seen him, who knows. Weird, huh?


  8. cj

    Amy!!! Glad your betting on the 0.9%! Your is one of the few blogs I read for good writing, so I am thrilled to have more of it! The guitar and composing for it are my pearls. Should I feel bad about having 2? I mean pearls….

    Have a under the sea Wednesday!


    • Amy Vansant

      Thank you! Lucky you with the guitar. I tried to teach myself piano once. Spent 2 weeks memorizing a song – played it correctly through maybe once, came back a few days later and had forgotten everything. Clearly, not a mind for music.


  9. Heather

    Man, Julia Child is everywhere I look this week. I’m just walking around the house alone saying, “Cassouleeeeeeeeet,” and I’m not even sure what a cassoulet is. Great example of playing it by ear and persisting, which all us word-workers need to do to keep the lights on.


  10. Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point

    Great post. I’m glad you found your pearl again.

    And I too love that you became Surfer magazine editor without being a surfer. I’m picturing a lot of funny and awkward (for you) conversations with surfers talking about techniques, waves and such. Hello new sitcom!


  11. Damien

    You know it’s that writing is what you were meant to do if you came back to it. Especially so since you came back to it with no false ideas of glory or fame. And obviously your blog isn’t a flash in the pan, or one of those that turns into a web-ghost town, so I say enjoy yourself, write your butt off, and, oh yeah, welcome back, Writing Amy!


  12. TRISTA

    I love reading your career story because it gives me hope, even though I’m one of the gazillion wondering if I can make a living as a freelance writer. (Sounds like I might have better luck learning how to surf.)

    I came across an insight at _Fast Company_ magazine from Sir Ken Robinson that our career path is like a ship navigating the sea: little corrections and adjustments every day, but when you look back (like on a resume), it looks like you knew what you were doing the whole time.

    Okay, last point — I also love how generous you are with your careers. You hired others to design webpages, and now you’re opening your website to other writers:

    At the moment, I’m trying to add more content from other sources and turn Kid-Free Living into more of a humor magazine of aggregated content, anchored by my own weekly humor posts.

    I’ll be sure to keep reading. I’m glad you’re back on the right/writing path!


  13. meleah rebeccah

    “Writing Amy is back. I feel like I lost a limb and had it replaced. I’ve got one novel I’m shopping to agents and another I’m working on now. And every time my blog starts to wear me out, I double down and find a way to re-energize my efforts.”




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