Gold Star Story

Karen O'Connor

At the recent Brave Writer staff retreat, our instructors were asked to share their history with writing. Karen O’Connor (Write for Fun classes) told us this inspiring account.

Gold Star Story

by Karen O’Connor

“I sold it! I sold my article for kids,” I called into the bright morning sky from the balcony overlooking our backyard. “I am now a professional writer! And I can prove it,” I added waving the publisher’s check with giddy abandon.

Three birds perched on the telephone line overhead flapped their wings in a sudden flurry. “Thank you. Thank you,” I joked and bowed from the waist. The ‘applause’ died down and my feathered friends rested at attention. “It’s all up from here,” I shouted, and off they flew, self-appointed messengers of my glad tidings.

I leaned against the railing and breathed in the scent of spring. It was a solemn moment–and a grateful one. This was the ‘gold star’ I had reached for since I left the tender care of Sister Mary Pius, fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Charity Elementary School. I could still picture that sweet old nun–not much taller than the boys and girls in front of her–pinning my prize-winning story to the bulletin board in the back of the room one sunny April day. “This is a gold-star story,” she said aloud, as she licked the small glittery sticker and placed it above the title line for all to see.


After school that day she called me to her desk, and in a tone that sounded serious to my little-girl ears, she said, “Karen, you’re going to be a professional writer someday.”

Then her eyes sparkled like the star on my story. She leaned forward and a soft smile broke across her wrinkled face. “That star,” she said, pointing in the direction of the bulletin board, “is just the first of many to come. Reach for those stars. Write the words God gives you.”

The whistle of the teakettle brought me out of my reverie and I stepped back inside my house. I sat down with a cup of Mint Medley, my thoughts and memories, the letter of acceptance from the editor of Crusader Magazine, a copy of my ‘sold’ manuscript, “A Trail of Tips for First-Time Campers,” and the check–for $12.50! I didn’t know what was ahead but I couldn’t imagine anything topping the wonder I felt in that moment. “It’s all up from here,” I reminded myself.

What I didn’t know at the time, however, was that to go up requires a lot more than simply hitching your dream to a star. Though it felt good to have my head in the clouds for a moment or two of celebration, I would soon discover that to earn the next gold star I had to plant my feet firmly on the ground. Even to go underground for a time–to learn my craft, to unearth the thoughts and ideas that are worth writing about, to mine my soul for the words God had for me, to experiment, to think.

And so I carried on bravely practicing, learning, and submitting my writing, selling articles and books and also receiving rejections from time to time. But that’s all part of the process of becoming a ‘brave writer’ for a lifetime.

Karen O'Connor with her granddaughter
With my granddaughter Mairin, age 18, at her high school graduation party.
I helped her with writing during a stretch of homeschooling in her early years.

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author and speaker from Watsonville, California and teaches Write for Fun 1 and Write for Fun 2 for Brave Writer.

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