David Bristow

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There’s a certain kind of adult―you may have met one already―who will corner you when you’re about twelve years old and demand to know what you plan to do with the rest of your life.

I learned a long time ago that a shrug and a blank stare will not make these people go away. They want answers, and if you don’t have them, they’ll frown and shake their heads and warn of a dark future in which you spend the best years of your life dunking baskets of fries in a tub of hot grease.

But I had everything figured out by the time I graduated from high school in Urbandale, Iowa. I had the grades and the college scholarship, and I majored in psychology and went to work in the mental health field.

Then I discovered that I really, really, really didn’t want to be there.

I got into educational publishing almost by accident. It hadn’t occurred to me that writing fiction as a teenager had taught me skills that would serve me well as an editor and nonfiction writer. My first editorial experiences were working for Writing! magazine and Contemporary Books’ Amazing Century series of history books.

Since then I’ve done freelance writing, served as managing editor of Nebraska Life magazine, and wrote a book of regional interest, A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha  (Caxton Press, now distributed by University of Nebraska Press). Currently, by day, I am associate director for research and publications at the Nebraska State Historical Society  and editor of Nebraska History  magazine. I’m also a freelance book editor, and speak at writers’ conferences and other public events. My wife, Danette, and I live in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I always tell students not to be too quick to decide on a career. The future is unpredictable and there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. Few of my friends are doing what they majored in (though none are working fast food, either). Get a broad-based education and be prepared to follow your interests and opportunities.

There’s another kind of adult to watch out for, by the way―the kind who will use a biographical essay as an excuse to dole out advice, as if he knows what he’s talking about. You’ve been warned.

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