“I am a writer.” I said that out loud to a stranger earlier this year and immediately glanced around to see if the store’s security was hurrying forward. I must have been blushing because I felt my face get hot and my stomach somersaulting–kind of like being twitter-pated in the springtime. (It’s a Bambi reference. Go back and review your Disney films.)
I felt like any second my subterfuge would be discovered. It wasn’t like I’d claimed to be a 300 lb black woman, a fraud people could instantly detect. Anybody can raise a hand to be counted as a writer and no one would ever know the truth. I was buying a ceramic octopus, intended to sit on my desk as inspiration for a YA story I was working on. The lady in line behind me asked what it was for, and before I could shrug it off as a silly knick-knack, the words just slipped out and there it was: now the universe knew.
I hadn’t really written since college, when I had deadlines to churn out short stories, screenplays, and for a while some truly awful poetry. Before that, since I can remember, I dreamed up tales for fun and was always in favor of essay tests instead of multiple choice in school. When the real world of work, family, and responsibilities closed in, I pushed writing to the back of the closet, pulling it out now and then to write silly Christmas poems for friends or edit other people’s writing.
All this was fine, I told myself, because you’re not a writer. Instead, I read constantly. Digesting a steady diet of words, craft, and imagery, whether I knew it or not, kept me tethered to possibility. Daily, the crowd of impish meanies in my head scoffed rudely and produced lists of reasons why I could not and should not try this at home. It doesn’t count if once upon a time your mama said you were good. If you dare crack open that door, you will be like the pathetic American Idol contestant who can’t carry a tune in a bucket but who imagines they are Barbra Streisand. A clown. A hack. A public joke. So fear got to be the boss of me and I reasoned that the world had plenty of amazing writers already. Exhibit A: my overflowing bookshelves.
Plus, I was too busy. A small business and growing family left no time for indulgences. I had “nothing to say.” Then my oldest left for college. I’m sure there’s an entire psychological avalanche of reasons why, but suddenly the excuses petered out. Now a couple of decades older, I had had experiences that perhaps did give me something to say. I no longer cared about the impish meanies. Why had I listened to their chorus in the first place?
So I started pecking out blog pieces, personal essays mostly, bits about my crazy family. There was no snickering, rotten tomatoes, or death threats. Turns out when you hit “publish” and your message in a bottle drifts on the universe’s currents, no one much sees it. Then I wrote a chapter based on an idea I had and made my teenage son listen to it. Every few days, I’d do another installment, our evening miniseries. Two more ideas later, I have another YA novel (the octopus) and a supernatural thriller in the works.
Each small step has led further down the path to connections, exposure and bravery. Lots and lots of bravery. It dawned on my that I preached to my kids about taking risks and pursuing their interests while I sat like a mouse huddled in a corner with what really mattered. My oldest went sky diving this year. Sitting at a keyboard and turning yourself inside-out across a page can be kind of like that. Every fiber screams that this is a really dumb idea and you should just back out, but then you hit publish and you’re airborne, sucking wind and trying not to die.
But the parachute! Once that sucker opens and you’re not hurtling towards earth, it’s kind of cool up there. The view is fantastic. Your fellow jumpers are all giving you the thumbs up with goofy grins plastered across their faces. Floating like that releases a feeling of freedom and rush of endorphin because you know you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
The community I’ve discovered on Twitter and Medium, the blog followers and Facebook commenters are the lift that enables flight. Julie Valerie’s monthly blog hop has been both a motivator and an inspiration. So many resources are available today that weren’t when I was literally typing out drafts on a manual typewriter all those years ago. In this next year, I plan to participate for the first time in NaNoWriMo to force me to complete one of the half-drafts filed on my desk. I will continue to submit beyond the blog to other outlets and contests. Next fall, because I plan to guard my work time more jealously, I will enter PitchWars. Because, curse you, impish meanies: Why Not?!
And because, like I told the octopus lady in the store, I’m a writer.