Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How My Birth Order Prepared Me for a Career in Publishing

It’s I 8 Wednesday. Today I’m unraveling 8 reasons why being the youngest prepared me for publication. Birth order central served up with a platter of eight nuggets for you this fine Wednesday. I’m channeling Kevin Leman by digging into my cornucopia knowledge of birth order to detail how being the baby set me up for industry ingenuity.

Yoo Hoo
I’m the youngest of four girls. Feelin’ for my dad now, aren’t you? (Sounding a little Irish now, aren’t I?) As the youngest, I had to brainstorm creative strategies in order to garner attention. I won’t even mention the time my older sister shined as one of three golden angels in the Christmas pageant while I dimly stood as one of twenty silver angels. I won’t even mention how I “fell” off the stage close to a dozen times. Yes, I was a weird kid. I’ve never denied this. But it was a pretty clever way to snare some attention, too, eh? Gives new meaning to fallen angel (ba dum dum).

In the writing industry I’m challenged to conjure up similar creativity when it comes to marketing, though now I do it without the drama or woe is me silver angel mentality.

Practicing Patience…Waiting for My Turn
Whether it was trailing behind as my sisters made a beeline to the bathroom, watching my sisters talk for hours on the phone with boyfriends, or eagerly awaiting my period (yeah, I know, what was I thinking?) I grew accustomed to waiting. It became a way of life.

And as anyone in the publishing industry knows, waiting = breathing. It’s just part of it.

Weight to Words
Because around our dinner table it was often difficult to get a word in, I made sure the words I said (or wrote in letters) counted. I knew I had three point six seconds to grab attention and keep it, so I truncated and gave the headlines as opposed to the entire news story as often as possible. My dad liked this. My husband likes this. Must be a guy thing, too.

Editing is the art of truncation.

Sharing the Glory
When the igloo towered over our elementary school bodies, our folks applauded. When we performed elaborate play after play, our folks cheered. When we swam the lake in order to not have to wear life jackets in the boat, our parents celebrated (my sisters, not me because I never was able to swim the lake). Anyhoo…my point is in a big family it was rare to accomplish something, correction…anything alone. My sisters and I often worked together, learning the ins and outs of collaboration and receiving collective praise.

I try to remember this as I witness my friends succeeding with book contracts and multiple book deals. By sharing their news with me, I tend to view it as though they are sharing the glory. Someday I intend to share with them.

Humble Bumble
I liked to dress up as Mia the bee—way beyond Halloween (if you've read Little Bee, think Batman costume). That story got passed around our Thanksgiving table crowded with guests. So did the one about me falling off the stage and the one about how I painted an Easter egg with the words Don’t Tease Jesus. Hmm…the psychology behind that one. Anyway, I got used to embarrassing stories about moi being dinnertime fodder. It takes a lot to embarrass me now.

Receive one rejection and you know how this one helps in the publishing world.

Hand Me Downs
I wore my sister’s dresses. In fact, my thirty-eight-year-old sister still sends me sneakers she’s gotten minimal use out of. The idea stuck I guess. I don’t have a “you owe me, must be me” sense of entitlement.

You lose this pretty quickly when you walk around in hand me down tennis shoes as a thirty-six-year-old. Sort of brings it all into perspective. I’ll end up with the house I’m meant to be with. End of story.

Picked on—Tough Skin
I have calluses that would put a lumberjack’s to shame. My name wasn’t Wendy growing up, it was cry baby. At the first hint of a tear that name got slapped on me. In retrospect, I see why. I was good at crying. I knew how to get my feelings out. Really well. Ha! But I knew how to take the punches and this only inspired me to grow thicker skin. I still feel deeply, but I’ve well-learned what to let go of.

Paying Attention & Taking Notes
As the youngest, I got the rare opportunity to tune in to see which behaviors and life choices worked for my sisters and which ones led them to rock bottom. I took copious mental notes about how I wanted to live my life.

I’m still doing this with those ahead of me on the publication highway. I’m watching. I’m observing. I’m taking notes. Learning every step of the way.

Have you ever given thought to how your birth order impacted your decision to pursue your choice profession and/or how it prepared you?

*photos of Paine girls


  1. I'm the middle child--the peacemaker, the non-confrontational one who tries to avoid conflict whenever possible. That's why I'm so thankful I have an agent to be my go-between.

    Growing up I had to learn to compromise, which is essential in the publishing world. My editor knew what was best for my story, so I had to compromise on a few elements. Turns out she was right in her predictions.

    Being the older sister, I protected and encouraged my younger sister. Now I do my best to encourage newer writers--I've been there. I've made those newbie mistakes so I offer what worked for me so maybe they can bypass those mistakes.

    Great post, Wendy. I love the picture of you and your sisters!

  2. I'm the middle child, and ever the observer. I've also broken from the pack and carved a path of my own, different than my siblings.

  3. Wendy, I love your creativity!

    While I can't relate to being the youngest, I can definitely appreciate the things you've learned--and I hope to learn from them!

    I'm the oldest of 2. The perfectionist. The go-getter. The overachiever. Yep. I hate waiting. I want to squeeze every opportunity out of life I possibly can. This has led me to desire a high-stakes profession (ahem, writing) where only the strong survive. Dramatic, right (as the oldest, I'm also a bit melodramatic...)? But seriously, I will have a lot to learn in this profession, because I'm used to succeeding...and it may take awhile or not happen at all (if my goal is publication). And I really don't mean to sound arrogant when I say I'm used to succeeding...I just mean it's something I've always expected of myself and something I've often achieved by pure will. But that pure will might not be enough in this industry. So, humility, though it's hard-learned, will be key.

    Wow, I just wrote a lot! :P Guess the topic inspired a thorough response. I'll be thinking on this a lot today, I think.

  4. Ah! I love this! See, it's posts like this and the one on Monday that makes me not think, but KNOW, you are going to be a successfully published author.

    I was absorbed in every word. And I could hear your voice, see your smile, and see your tongue-in-cheek winks the entire time I read.

    All of these are MUST-HAVE's in the publishing world. I especially love "editing is the art of truncation" Not only because it's true, but because it is SUCH a brief, to-the-point statement.

  5. I'm the youngest of 4, too! And I still get hand-me-downs. It's great!

    I watched my older siblings fail, succeed, break rules, etc. So, I learned from their experiences without having to copy their errors. (not that I didn't mess up on my own...)

    This has helped me as a writer to learn from others who have gone before me. And I don't feel the need to be the very first to try something new.

    And it made a good observer. I had to be pretty sneaky to figure out what was going on with the older kids. That's helped me in watching people in the grocery store that I think would be a great character. :)

  6. Love this post, Wendy!

    I've always been fascinated by birth order (I'm the oldest) and now, watching my two sons grow, so many things make sense. I have to admit, I'm envious of you younger siblings--I think I'm a bit spoiled and want things my own way too often, a common trait of firstborns.

    Oh well, only by God's grace... :)

  7. Oh, love this Wendy!! I'm the youngest of two, but I come from a huge extended family. I also learned the value of getting attention, the 3.6 seconds rule of getting a word in, hand-me-downs!!, and always waiting for "my" turn.

    Have you read the Birth Order book? It's a beauty! Loved it!

  8. LOL what a great post! Birth order? Never reflected on how that affects my writing, but it may explain why I whine all the time ... being the youngest and all :)

  9. B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T!
    Now that you've "birth-ordered" your writing life (yes, I used birth order as a verb!) would you like to try to do the same for me?
    First born daughter (I have an older brother) but I'm a twin (4 minutes older than my sister) who looks nothing like her twin sister, so we never technically functioned as twins because we couldn't convince people we were even related ...
    Intriguing post. Lots to think about.
    And, you my friend, are going far in the writing world!

  10. Cute! Somehow I forgot you're the youngest. I'm the oldest of three girls...What do you think that says about me? lol
    I see my youngest sister in this post. Birth order is soooo interesting.

    And like Katie, I love your quote. We need to make sure it stays a Wendy P Miller quote. :-)

  11. Birth order stuff is so fascinating to me. Like Jessica above, I'm the oldest of three girls. So it's fun to see how a youngest child approaches writing/publishing. Great post!

  12. I can totally relate to this since I'm the youngest of five kids. Now I'm feeling better about that.

  13. Interesting! Great post.

    I'm the youngest of 5...6 really.

    There is a generation of time between my oldest sibs and myself. My three oldest sibs belong more to an earlier generation...

    The oldest sib(my sister)is an artist (painter), and I'm the writer. The middle ones are boys. They have the hard drive work ethic for business.

  14. I'm the middle child, with all the middle child related complexes. :)

    I think my birth order has given me some tenacity and stubbornness to stick with publishing even when it was hard.

  15. What a great & creative post! No wonder why you write women's fiction! I learned a new word today, too, so thanks (had to look up truncated—you can see why publication's a loooong way away for this newbie, lol).

    I love your pictures; what an adorable family of females. :) I'm the youngest of four too, but also I'm the "accident" kid, so there is a 12 year gap :O between me and my oldest brother.

    I've been meaning to ask you (sorry if it's spelled out somewhere), what, exactly does I8 mean/represent? Is that a "1" or an "I?"

  16. Hi Wendy -

    Great analogies! Hmm, I'm an only child.

    Susan :)

  17. Hey guys. Crazy night at the homestead. The birthdays have begun. Four in our family this month and I'm all about celebrating each one.

    But Barb, I wanted to jump on here really quickly to let you know it's I as in me, myself, and I 8 (as in my favo numero)'s a fun play on I hate Wednesdays. Since I'm all about being positive, I put my own spin on that bad boy and came up w/ I 8 Wednesdays. And every Wed. I throw out a list of 8 something or others.

    Thanks for asking.

    Off to sing another round of the birthday song!

    ~ Wendy

  18. See, Wendy? This is why we bond. I'm the baby too. Little did I realize it was preparing me for this crazy career. :)

  19. I am the middle child of four daughters! :)

  20. I'm the oldest of three, and the road was rocky at times:) I made all the mistakes first!

    I think the same applies with my writing journey; I hope I have most of my big mistakes behind me.

  21. Such a good post, Wendy. I love all your family pictures. Since I have four daughters, I am feeling encouraged right now that all their attention-gaining antics might be healthy and normal behavior! Thank you!

    I'm the oldest of three, but my younger sister was VERY bright and good at EVERYTHING. She still is. And she was very confident, where I was shy. So even though I'm technically the oldest, I felt like the youngest in many ways. I have no idea how I would apply this to my life now. LOL!

    One more thing - I love what you said about sharing the glory. That's such a wonderful way to think about it, as opposed to the jealousy we so often read about on blogs. I guess I've felt jealous occasionally, but it's more often this share-the-glory feeling. I honestly am so happy and thrilled for my friends when they succeed (usually). :)


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