Within me, my whole life, there has been a tiny voice whispering: “I am a writer.”
I have ignored the hell out of this voice for a long time.
There is a quote somewhere asserting that, for some, writing is like breathing, and this has always resonated with me. I’ve kept a diary since I was 5. I started writing short stories around the same age, and gradually the two outlets merged into personal essays. I write to record the things that have happened to me; I write to get my feelings on paper so they are no longer beating against the walls of my head; and I write to make myself see when I’m being ridiculous. I have a dozen half-started essays that will never be perfect. I write them in spurts, usually between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., but read through them in the light of day and tear the paragraphs apart. Very few essays get finished; even fewer survive more than two read-throughs before being abandoned. Now I write for this blog, and I still comb through my articles published months earlier, changing the wording to be more clear.
I am not a writer.
I am not a writer because I am a pretty, social blonde girl who had a perfectly normal childhood, likes to go out to bars with her friends in tight, backless dresses, and only rarely experiences bed-confining angst. I could never be described as “twee.” I am not a writer because I do not wear jaunty berets and brood at European-style coffee shops. I am not a writer because I have never read “Moby Dick,” “Atlas Shrugged,” or even “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and I don’t really like Hemingway except for “Hills Like White Elephants.” I am not a writer because I do not write flowery and beautiful prose. I try to be funny and tell a story, but I don’t think this counts towards being a real writer. I am not a writer because that is not a profession with health insurance, steady pay, certainty, or respect and I need those things. I will never win a Pulitzer. But I need to write.
I have known the brooding girls who wear jaunty berets and can be found typing away at coffee shops. They are the real writers. I imagine these girls feel everything more intensely, that they have slow, sensuous, candlelit sex that can truly be called “making love.” When love fades, they throw themselves into depression, sobbing on soft pillowcases and begging through tears. Their attire has whimsy, their feelings have gravity, they twirl with joy, and they do not have normal days of muted emotion. They love “Amelie.” They are constantly thumbing through literature and can discuss its literary merits, character development, and how they identified with the melancholy of the plot. They go to museums, appreciate art, and live in or want to move to New York, Paris, or alternatively, write from a barn in the middle of nowhere. They would wither away at a corporate desk job like mine, their creativity stifled. Because of their very essence, their deep and complex nature, they are more creative than I am, and I could never live up to what they produce. I have been in writing classes with these girls, somehow, and I envy their ease of displaying what I am not.
I am not a writer because I read Dave Barry and BuzzFeed, and write silly articles about Tinder. I can survive a literary discussion, but only for a short while until everything is over my head. All of my essays are short; I doubt I have the attention span, story, or prowess with words to write a novel. When I try to be serious and beautiful, I fail. All the nebulous and profound thoughts and emotions I have swirling around in my head will not go on the paper in a way that shows their power. They are not the right words, and I have to revise, revise, revise in a way that the brooding girl, with her powerful and readily accessible emotions and vocabulary, would not. She would probably even work in literary devices like allusions and a deeper meaning to a simple description of a doorknob. A kind of secret code, out of my grasp, to communicate with others like her.
My parents, those frustrating people who gave me an unartistically happy childhood and the people who can’t be trusted to be objective, think I’m a writer. These people, one of whom gave a speech about making mistakes that I still read for support (my father) and the other whose emotions are palpable in every written sentence (my mother, who I suspect was one of those brooding artistic women at some point), they tell me that the thank you cards that I sent as a teenager are practically famous, something that I am sure directly translates to becoming a writer. They, the math teacher and the company president, tell me they wish I could turn it into a career. Me too. That is, if I could do it safely, without the plunge into unsteady job territory. And if I were good enough; if I felt and saw things in the right, artistic way.
It’s funny how praise works. From those closest to you, who are usually obligated to love you anyway, it may not mean much. My friends and parents telling me they enjoy my work makes me happy, even if I don’t fully trust their opinions. But from those who don’t know me, it means the world. A few days ago, a philosopher-bodybuilder-medical student friend of mine wrote me for the first time in a year and asked if I was still writing. He told me that I had a gift. And when Huffington Post published my first article, one of the few that had survived multiple revisions, I felt briefly validated. As I read through the comments and saw it get retweeted by a friend who had a penchant for the brooding girls, I thought, maybe. Maybe I am a writer.
The thing is, there is not just one right voice. Yes, there is the beautiful literature that survives history—the Dante, the Shakespeare, the Faulkner. But there are also the bloggers, the writers whose work affects people in a different way. As much as James Joyce revolutionized writing and the metaphor or Thoreau inspired generations to love nature, Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosch have prevented suicides, and The Onion makes people’s day a little more joyful. Maybe I will never be sufficiently well-read or enjoy espresso enough to be the artsy, creative girl, but that doesn’t mean I am not capable of releasing good into the world.
I’m still struggling with the uncertainty and I think I always will. I will always think that I don’t feel deeply or write prettily enough. But, the most I can do is try to write what’s true and hope people will identify with what I have to say. And I will always write.
“I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die.” —Isaac Asmiov
“Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.” —Julia Cameron
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I completely agree with this. I’ve always pushed against the idea of being a “writer,” but I do feel compelled to write. It’s how I work out most problems both real and imagined.
I really enjoyed this piece. I’ve also felt that I’m not a “real writer” because I lack the breadth of literary knowledge that some people my age have (although I have read Moby Dick :) or I’m not confident that my writing really means anything or is saying anything at all. But I still enjoy it, so I do it!