I’ve told this story a thousand and one times, but because I’m trying to make a point, I’ll tell it again. Years ago, when I first met my friend Josh on the internet, he asked me what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” A writer, I answered him. His answer is one that sticks in the back of my mind, an answer that I draw forth almost daily, whenever I need to remind myself of its truth: “You already are a writer.”
I think I must have rolled my eyes and typed back furiously something along the lines of, yeah, whatever, but I want to be published. Back then, I imagined a writer as being someone who had a book on the shelves, being analyzed and read in classrooms or in reading circles or even, god forbid, at the beach. If only I knew then, ten years ago, how wise Josh’s answer was.
Writing is more than a profession; being a writer is different than being a banker or a CEO or a politician. Being a writer is more than just a way of life…it is an undeniable part of your own existence that barely has an explanation and rarely makes any sense. Sure, writing is a craft and a skill that has to be honed and molded and anyone who has a respectable vocabulary and working knowledge of grammar can accomplish it. But that’s the profession. That’s not a writer.
A writer is someone who looks at language as magic, who appreciates the story made up of the little moments in life. A writer is someone who feels the energy of an idea through her whole body, feels the urge, the need, to write like a tingling sensation, ready to spill forth from her fingers. A writer dreams and dares and hopes and immerses herself in emotion and imagery and wonder.
Despite setbacks and disappointments, a writer dreams. Despite failure and rejection, a writer hopes. She has stories to tell and characters to meet and places to travel, and even if those stories never make into the hands of the public, she will continue to write.
Because writing is a part of her; she needs it like she needs the air to breathe. To keep living, she needs to be writing, otherwise she is but a lackluster shell of the person she once was. Writing is more than a living for this person, more than a talent. For the writer, writing is everything.
I say all of this because I want you to understand how I’ve tried to fool myself over the years as I attempted to grapple with the question of what I want to be when I “grow up.” For awhile, I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. (Actually, for awhile I thought I wanted to teach gorillas sign language and be a dog trainer.) I wanted to restore old houses, own a B&B, be a professor…My first “real” job out of college was in communications, and I thought, for a moment, that I could be satisfied working in a corporate atmosphere. As much as I enjoy and appreciate the business side of things, I will admit without hesitation that this is not where I belong.
When I quit that job, I thought that there would suddenly be a clear path to a career: graduate school was going to open doors and lead me in the right direction. However, when that didn’t pan out as I had expected, I became desperate, applying to every job imaginable all over the country. Magazines, television companies, communication departments, universities — I could write articles, scripts, press releases, help with project coordination. I thought about event planning and marketing, advertising and public relations. I applied for editorial and proofreading positions at soap opera magazines and educational foundations, even for a comic book enterprise (which, really, the geek in me probably wouldn’t mind at all).
When I step back and think about it, though, I probably wouldn’t be happy with any of it. You say that you’re a writer when people ask you your profession and they look at you expectantly, as if to say, “and…?” Yeah, it doesn’t pay well. I get that. But this is who I am. This is what I’ve always wanted. Of course, I want to edit books and all that jazz I’ve talked about before. Of course I want to make the money to pay the bills and buy the house with the library I’ve always dreamed of, but at the end of the day, when I’m being honest with myself, I only want to write.
I saw an ad in a magazine yesterday for an artist’s retreat in the south of France. All types of artists have the option of spending at least a month there devoting their time to their craft. One month of uninterrupted writing in a country that I love and have a deep connection with. One month of experiencing beauty and culture and nature and life while I let go of my inhibitions and indulge in a passion that is such a part of me.
Maybe this is what I’ve been waiting for all this time — a chance, an opportunity of my own making. I have no attachments, nothing holding me back…Nothing but myself, that is, and for this, I would be willing to step outside of my comfort zone. I have to dare and take that risk, find my strength and independence and embark on my dream. After all, you need to leave the shore if you want your sails to take wind.