deepest regrets and shattered dreams

The exact details are fuzzy, but a couple years ago when I was 19, I came across a magazine ad for the Institute of Children’s Literature. “Do you dream of writing children’s books? Are you dying to be published? Well, this is your lucky day!”

I’m sure they promised big money and lots of fame if I’d just shell out a few hundred buckeroos for their one-of-a-kind writing course with top-notch instructors boasting loads of publishing experience.

I filled out a form for a free info packet and “writing aptitude test” and if my memory serves me correctly, the test consisted of 1.) some fill-in-the-adjective mad libs, 2.) a writing prompt involving a boy, a baseball, and a bottle of ketchup and 3.) a big blank box for me to try my hand at illustration.

I passed with flying colors, and my mom has been getting letters from the Institute of Children’s Literature addressed to Miss Marla R. Yoder ever since. When I first got married, she’d save them for me. Until one day when I was all, “Hey, Mom. You can just throw those away. It’s okay.” So for the next decade plus, that’s what she did.

Until this week. The sad-faced dalmatian puppy on the front of the envelope caught her eye. As did the words, “I’m afraid this is good-bye, Miss Yoder.” Without even asking my permission, she opened the letter to see what horrific circumstances had caused the Institute of Children’s Literature to terminate our one-sided relationship after 16 years of wasted stamps and paper.

Dear Miss Yoder,

Saying good-bye to you before you’ve done anything to develop your writing aptitude is extremely painful for us.

It’s one of the most trying times in a teacher’s life: We can recognize promise and see the potential in a prospective student, but we can’t just wave a wand and make it happen.

It’s also painful because, unless you become a famous author, we’ll probably never know whether you’ve pursued your dream of writing for children or whether you’ve just let it slip away.

It’s sad because we both know that you have the aptitude to write for children, yet, time after time, you’ve chosen not to develop it. The hundreds of applicants who fail our aptitude test every year would find that hard to believe.

So, the book you might have written, with our help and guidance, will go unwritten. Your stories will go unpublished, your articles unseen.

It’s a shame.

Yet, you’ll always have the aptitude you need to write for children and we’ll always be here to help you if you change your mind and decide to enroll. In fact, in case you’ve changed your mind since the last time we wrote to you, I’m enclosing an enrollment form. If you decide to join us, please return the form by April 29 with your $29 down payment.

[the next section goes on and on and on and on about how they’ve hand-picked a mentor for me and how fortunate I am to have Marilyn Strube, with her “legion of admirers,” as my personal guide…]

Of course, the Institute doesn’t guarantee success. But our training gives you the best possible prospects for publication.

But if you’ve already said good-bye to your dream, we’ll say good-bye and wish you well.


Judith Brunstad

Friends, it’s too late for me, but IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR YOU! Run, don’t walk, RUN toward your dreams!! Please! I beg you! Don’t let them slip away!! DON’T LET THEM SLIP AWAY!!!

20 thoughts on “deepest regrets and shattered dreams

  1. Joy Louters

    I honestly fail to see the humor in any of this. There are thousands of “schools” out there that do this and you should have done your homework before picking ICL to poke fun of and bully like a bunch of grade school children.
    I am here to tell you that they ARE legit and have very accomplished authors on their staff. I was blessed with one of the best and because of her, I became a published author in the field of Children’s Literature.
    Here’s an idea, take the time you waste keeping up this website and use it for education so you really have something of value to talk about.

  2. Leigh

    What’s really sad is that it took them 16 years to lay this guilt-trip on you. Why would they allow you so much time to fritter away your dreams and talent?

    I remember being intrigued by those ads back in the day but never did anything about it. Glad I saved my parents from the onslaught of mail!

  3. jess

    THIS HAD ME CRACKING UP THIS MORNING!! too funny. i applied to that but never sent the app back. THANK GOODNESS!! I’d end up with deep personality issues over their extreme disappointment in me. 😉

    the part about 19 had me cracking up, too.

    love it.

  4. Kara

    1. A few years ago (when you were 19 y.o.)? Seems like a lot of years ago. :) hehe!
    2. I feel like this was written for me. {sigh}

  5. Nina

    Funny story! That reminds me of a similar story …

    I entered an “International Poetry Contest!” in high school and was awarded the coveted status of “Golden Poet” and the chance to be published with the few hand-picked other “Golden Poets.” So I paid the money (shoulda known something was up there, but I was a dumb teenager) and got the book. It contained at least 1,000 mediocre poems (mine included) by at least 900 specially hand-picked Golden Poets. Once I got over the disappointment, I found that the book made a great doorstop.

    1. Marla Taviano

      I hate that people can get away with stuff like that!! I was in this Who’s Who in America for High School Students (or something like that). It’s basically your school picture and 10 words about you. You and a MILLION other “important” high-schoolers!! I forget how much my parents paid for the book. Ugh. I kept it for awhile, then tossed it.

        1. jess

          i was also in that book…all FOUR YEARS. Finally…but the time i got to college…i got that it was dumb and didn’t send my college notification back.

  6. Keli Gwyn

    Marla, I took two correspondence courses through the ICL and was mightily impressed with the quality of instruction. The final assignment in my second course became my first published magazine article and helped launch my writing career five years ago. After 40+ years of dreaming about being a writer, ICL helped me turn a lifelong dream into reality. =)

    1. Marla Taviano

      Keli!! That’s AWESOME!! I have to admit, I really wondered about their credibility. Now I know a real-life success story!! Have you shared your testimonial with them? Maybe they’d pay you to write their regret letters. :)

  7. holly smith

    Ha! Ha! Indeed, sister! I will quote to you the song running through my head.”I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, when I think about…o how He love us, oh how he loves us.” :)

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