My father, DailyKOS blogger leftyparent, turned me on to an article in Psychology Today about a woman named Kate Fridkis and her unschooling experience. After reading it and realizing how much her experience mirrored my own, I was compelled to comment, and encouraged (by my father) to blog about my experiences, here. I use the word 'abbreviated' because there's a lot I could expound upon, but I think this diary sums it up pretty nicely.
After graduating 8th grade at a 'progressive' charter school (with mixed results) my parents gave me the option to attend a traditional public high school, to home school, or to continue on the charter school route. I ended up at a traditional school (out of pure curiosity) and lasted through 9th grade, at which point I realized that I was very done with what traditional schooling had to offer.
While I only officially 'unschooled' from 10th grade and beyond, I did not go the traditional college route, either. Like Fridkis, I got to explore my interests without constriction or judgment, during those years of freedom after 9th grade. And, like her, I gravitated toward fantasy (and later, sci-fi) writing. I had grown up in a rich tradition of fantasy and science fiction literature, and when I thought about it, had been writing stories since I was a young girl... you know, when I could fit it in.
I ended up heavily involved in online roleplaying communities, wherein I could borrow their worlds and create my own characters; weave my own narratives with other people, young and old, all over the world (some of them I even got to meet, later on). This was my first chance to flex my writing muscles and two important things happened -- I got all that lousy writing out the way (that you just have to do when you get started -- practice makes perfect), and I learned not only that I wanted to write novels, but that I quite conceivably could.
I had a small college fund waiting in the wings, which I decided was too precious to touch until I was absolutely ready. So, in order to move out, I got a job at a mom and pop breakfast joint when I was 18 (as a server, initially), quickly working my way up to manager. Despite being 19 at that point (I held the job until I was 22), I perpetually had people ask me 'Are you the owner?'. I have to attribute my poise and overall competency to my unschooling years (when I got to be heavily involved in youth leadership in my Unitarian Universalist community). And I must say, I got a heady dose of perspective working a day job during my college years; truly coming to understand what my life could be if I did not become a writer and did not have a college degree to cushion the blow.
After four years, the job became a strain on my creativity. I've been working on a science fiction novel since I was 18 (that has slowly morphed into book one in a Young Adult Sci-Fi Trilogy) and have been periodically taking courses through UCLA's Writer Program, which despite being labeled as 'extension' and requiring nothing in the way of credits (only money), is considered a reputable program. For me, it's been sufficient college experience. Often, in the course of writing, I have to do a lot of research, and I end up learning a lot of new things. That's the beauty of the internet -- it brings the classroom to you. In fact, the majority of my UCLA courses have been online, with an instructor in Kentucky (whom I absolutely adore).
I'll be 23 in July. Just last September, I decided to quit the job that nursed me into adulthood and subsist off my fund to make some serious progress on my book. I completed a first draft in less than three months, continuing to study through UCLA, and am now knee deep in the 2nd draft (along with loose planning for books two and three). I'm confident that when I do start looking for part time work again, I'll have enough done that I can begin the process of querying agents, or at least, be very close. I'm very grateful that I was able to use my college fund in this way... I can't think of how it could've benefited my dreams and my budding career more.
That's my story in a nutshell. I'm still nervous about the next 6 months, as I watch the money that's been my safety net dwindle beneath me. But, being allowed to cultivate my own agency has engendered a confidence in myself that keeps me afloat, and I know that even when I look for work again, it'll only be temporary. In retrospect, it's easy to see that being able to explore my interests so freely is what set me on this path, and no matter how tough it's been, working my way to this point, I wouldn't do anything differently.