My first experience volunteering at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver blew my mind. It was the first time in my adult life where I was surrounded by a community of writers. On that exceptional evening, my identity as a writer started to take shape. No one asked me, “So what do you do for a living?” Instead, they cut straight to the chase by shaking my hand and asking me, “So, what do you write?”
Wow. They want to know what I write.
When I was younger, even though I wasn’t writing consistently, I constantly talked about my fantasies of being a published author. Over time the guilt became a brick wall and my hopes were weighed down. I felt ashamed for having a big dream and not pursuing it. Who wants to talk to a writer about writing when they don’t write? I spent many years beating myself up for not jotting down my thoughts and for not following through with my goals. I muted my dream. In order to write, I decided that I needed to go back to school and earn an MFA. I thought I needed to have credentials or else I could never be published. I knew having a BA degree in English was the only way I would be taken seriously. The problem was, I had no aspiration to go back to school.
I wrote long letters to friends, heartfelt thank-you cards for gifts and thinking-of-you notes to people who needed a little TLC. In other words, I cherished any moments when I could take pen to paper. Yet this wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to be nurturing. I wanted to tell my story and I had no idea how to get started. I came from a family where we learned that hard work pays off. Writing memoirs was a fantasy, a hobby at best.
When I was young, the only person who told me I should grow up and be a writer was my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Fletcher. What did that even mean? Didn’t all elementary school teachers fill their students up with hope? Wasn’t that their job? I never met a person who had made a fulltime career out of being an author so I didn’t have a tangible role model. Writing didn’t pay the bills or at least, it had never paid my bills.
I felt like a phony every time I let my mind carelessly chatter about my aspirations. Why was I wasting time writing letters to friends when all I wanted to do was write my story? Where would I start? How would I find the time? Who would ever want to read anything I write? What’s the point of starting when I know I’ll never finish?
I initiated numerous writing circles with handfuls of friends. We would each bring a food item that would complement a pot-luck styled, heaping salad. We’d check-in and catch up over our meal. Then we would write for an hour, sometimes longer depending on how inspired we felt. Afterwards, a few of us would volunteer to share our words. There was always one writer who was too scared to share with us. That’s how deep our fears can run around our craft. On occasion, a couple of us met outside of our bi-monthly meetup to write together at coffee shops and bookstores. I’d silently patted myself on the back when I lugged my laptop, purse, coffee mug, water bottle and notes to each meet-up destination.
These gatherings were great as a whole but they weren’t wonderful because we barely wrote. Writers like to talk to each other about why we don’t write. Each of us seemed to surf through the waves of sheer confidence only to be pummeled down by absolute writer’s block. I also wanted to just catch-up with these inspiring people. After all, they were some of my dearest friends. The meet-ups fizzled out and we began skype sessions from various locations across town. These video chats eventually dissolved too. I stopped organizing writer gatherings.
I needed to sit down and write. No one could make me do it but me.
Once I made the decision to park my butt in front of my home computer, the words started pouring out of me. I had to look past all the reasons why I thought writing was too hard, why I thought I was underqualified to do it and why it had taken me so long to get started. I had to release all my fears of not being good enough. None of that sh!t mattered. What mattered was dedicating myself to getting it done.
My writing’s not brilliant or crafted with expertise grammar or sentence structure. But it’s raw and it’s honest. The more I punch away at the black letters on my keyboard, the more I learn about what it is I want to say. I’m see myself as keeping a practice of writing, same as being in a practice of yoga or mediation. My book progressions magically appear each time I wrap myself up in the project for days at a time. I’ve discovered that the first draft is important but the revisions are where the story becomes alive. I keep typing away so I can go back and make changes. That’s my favorite part.
I never believed that I could introduce myself as a writer. Now I find myself talking to all sorts of people about being a writer. They’re curious to know what it’s like to sit at a computer and write for hours on end. I’m amazed that I know how to answer their questions now that I’m going after it. Recognizing myself as a writer has changed my life. I no longer have time to make excuses because I’m too busy writing.