Am I Really a Writer?
That was the question a writer friend of mine asked me the other day. “Should I keep writing? Or am I just fooling myself into thinking I can do this?” Then she added, “This is an honest-to-goodness real question. Not a lift-me-up and make be feel better question.”
I figured I had better make an honest to goodness real effort in answering it and not just type some flippant response.
I am not qualified to define what makes a writer. If I were, I could answer that question every time my own mind bugs me with it. What makes a writer? Who knows? Really— I’m the one asking the honest-to-goodness question now.
What makes a writer?
Stephen King says a writer is born out of perseverance. It’s the writers who keep writing that can count themselves successful. Nowhere did he mention anything about getting published or collecting huge royalty checks. I don’t think King was referring to those particular measures of success.
And who defined those measures anyway? Are you only successful at whatever you do if the rest of the world says so? Am I only a good mother if I read in USA Today that “Birgitte Necessary was awarded the Good Mother of the Year Award for her outstanding contribution to raising three kids who (so far) don’t need therapy?” At what point do I tell myself that I’m good at something?
My answer to that is, “right from the start.” The minute I decided to be a writer I told myself I was good at it. I didn’t use those words exactly. What I said was, “I can do this.” It doesn’t matter that I’m still attacked by my doubting Thomas side. When I say, “I can do this,” I am a writer. Those words scoot me down the road a little further.
And what’s at the end of the road? Oprah standing there saying, “Come on down girlfriend, you made it and by the way I totally LOVE your shoes!?” I don’t think so. The road I’m on ends at a “T” with a street sign that points both left and right. The right-hand road is called, “This Way.” The road on the left is called “That Way.” The point is, it all just keeps going, and going and going, as long as I have the right batteries.
For me the batteries are those four words, “I can do this.”
My writer friend was also accused of using her writing as “an escape.” As an escape? From what? From life? Writing is life. In fact, escaping is life. Who told us we need to stay plugged into life 24/7 like that’s something worthy of honor.
On the flip side, how can we NOT be plugged in? Aren’t we in it until we’re dead? Escape? There’s only one way to escape. Personally I’m a long way from that hatch. God willing.
Besides, for me, writing is about facing things that are difficult to face in my day-to-day world, like fear, anger, death, even bliss—the shear joy of living, exuberance. Exuberance can be frightening to someone who drags around a few hundred pounds of overdue bills with one hand and a nearly empty bank account with the other. Writing has never been a means of escape for me. Instead, it’s a means to face life head on and tell myself, “Dang, I can do this.” I can write. I can live.
So, should my friend give up her writing? Give up the thing she told me she loves to do, that gives her a feeling of accomplishment and makes her laugh as often as it makes her cry?
To my friend I say sure, give it up. Give it up the minute you are ready to give up life. Until then, pick up your pen and get on with living.
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