The summer before I started high school I participated in the ELCA's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Lutheran Youth Gathering. This was in 1994, and the location for the "2 Be Alive" themed gathering that lasted for an entire week was Atlanta, Georgia. There were 30,000 of us there, with many of the events taking place at the Georgia World Congress Center. It was my first time flying on a plane, my first time in a big city, the first time I ever drank New Coke.
The following fall I entered 8th grade and my English teacher asked me if I wanted to try my hand at writing a short story for the NCTE (National Council of English Teachers) Promising Young Writers Program. I said sure and wrote about Thanksgiving from the point of view of a carrot - which you can read in its entirety here. That short received a superior writing certificate, making it the only thing I was going to win with my writing for a very, very long time.
Both of these things occurred in 1994, when I was 14 years old.
I returned to Atlanta - and the Georgia World Congress Center - last month at the age of 37 to be a guest author and panelist at ALAN/NCTE.
In the intervening years I've flown on a ton of planes and been in a lot of cities - I've even won a few more writing awards (though I've avoided New Coke.) Being back in the Georgia World Congress Center and seeing the NCTE logo everywhere (I still have my letter of recognition, that logo stamped upon my psyche as proof that yes I CAN do this), really threw me back to being fourteen.
Most writers will tell you that we never really feel like we've made it. There's always an event you weren't invited to, a distinction you haven't received, a sales goal you haven't met. I'm happy to walk up to just about anyone and introduce myself (ask Maggie Stiefvater) but that doesn't mean I don't get starstruck, or worry that after I say, "Hi, I'm Mindy McGinnis," they will blankly say, "Who?"
I think that humility is good, personally. If I ever think I'm the best in the room it means that I'm no longer improving. And I'll be the first to tell you that awards, sales, and contracts don't shush that little voice in your head when you sit down to write that says, "This time you're going to fail."
But this past November in Atlanta I felt pretty good about who I was, and how I got there.
Which means it's time for a new challenge.