On being a writer (or not)

When I was in fourth grade I was given a recommendation by my teacher to attend a three-week day camp for gifted children. Coming from a tiny Catholic school, I was blown away that I got to take three classes of my own choosing and I eagerly signed up for creative writing. I’d always been good at spelling and Language Arts and I got in trouble often for hiding a book under my desk to read while the teacher was talking. I’d never done any writing of my own until camp, but I absolutely loved it. I wrote poems and a story about time travel. At the end of the three weeks a “book” was published featuring the work of all the budding young novelists, poets, and journalists. That book is still floating around my mom’s house somewhere, tattered and well-loved.

I’ve kept journals off and on for what feels like forever. I’d write recaps of my daily life and all the angsty teenage poetry you can stomach, some of which I’d let other people read from time to time. I’d paste in magazine cutouts and snippets of poems or quotes or songs I liked and wanted to make sure to remember. I consistently did well in English classes throughout my school career; I know my senior AP English teacher still reads one of my personal essays to her AP students as an example each November.

In college, I had no idea what to major in. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I felt like I needed to know in order to choose. I loved Lit and Writing courses, but what was I ever going to do with a degree in Creative Writing, particularly if I did what I wanted and focused on poetry? I mean, my God, I had LOANS to pay off. Big ones! But I plowed ahead because nothing else seemed right. I didn’t win any awards and I was never accepted into our school’s prestigious literary magazine (bastards). But I always wrote honestly and with enthusiasm.

After a grueling final term of Senior Seminar, where we had to revise everything we’d written throughout college, a detailed (25+ page) introduction to our work, plus an appendix AND turn out new stuff, I was done with poetry for a good long while. Hell, I STILL don’t write much poetry and it’s been two and a half years. But I discovered blogging and I love this form of expression. I love the energy and the humor and the community that is based around this type of sharing.

And now, most recently, there is a book idea. I know! I am so excited but I’m also terrified. I can talk and talk about all the ideas in my head (and I am lucky enough to have a husband who’s not only supportive but downright THRILLED at the idea of my writing a novel) but when it comes time to sit down and write I just…freeze. I don’t know how to begin or where to begin. I don’t know if it’s something I should just know, or if it’s something that is learned. I don’t know anything about fiction writing other than 1) I love it when it’s done well; 2) I definitely know when it’s NOT done well; 3) It’s hard. Which leaves me with little to go on here.

I didn’t mean to tell you about the book, really, because I am overwhelmed and scared that it’ll keep rolling around in my head and never make it onto the page. And then I am just another failed attempt, another wishful almost-novelist.

What I ACTUALLY meant to talk about is a line from an email I received today from a fellow blogger-turned-fiction-writer who I emailed for advice. And now I can’t get this out of my head: “…if you CAN stop writing or never start in the first place, you probably should.” Now, taken out of context this might sound like the opposite of helpful encouragement, but let me assure you it’s not. She was funny and VERY encouraging and gave me some great things to think about (one of the things I love about blogging! Meeting awesome, generous people!). It got me wondering, though.

Am I REALLY a writer? I mean, deep down? Could I walk away and never write again??

The answer to the first question, I hope, is yes. I mean, technically it IS yes. I am a writer because I write on a pretty regular basis and because I love it. I know that. But am I meant to write? I hope so. I really want that to be true. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever done consistently throughout my life, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always working on something or that I’ve always written regularly. I’ve just always enjoyed it and been pretty good at it.

Could I walk away from it entirely? That is the question that gives me pause. Do I need to write like I need food or oxygen? Well, no. Do I become fixated when I am writing? To an extent. Is writing a choice? Yes and no. It’s not always easy to write as much as I should on the blog, and it’s certainly proving to be very difficult to write a novel. But when I am not writing I am still thinking about the blog, plotting out my book, feeling excited and nervous and vulnerable.

And…I think I’ve just answered my own question. I think that vulnerability, that part of myself that wants so much to be a good writer, is what makes me one. I want to be  able to touch people with my words; those connections makes me feel whole. Plus, writing is cathartic. There is something satisfying about getting what’s in my head out and onto the page (hello, this post). It helps me find peace.

So I guess this is all coming from a place of intimidation and worry. This book business is new and scary and I feel very vulnerable and overwhelmed. But I am excited by the challenge and now I have some ideas about where to start looking for feedback and really? I probably just need to do some mental vomiting onto the page (oh the imagery!) and give myself something to begin to shape. It will come together.

Probably I just need to breathe.


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