When do I get to call myself a writer?

When I was eight years old I started on my first novel. From what I recall, it was going to be very dramatic, pretty much a soap opera. But my sister found the first few pages and read them aloud to her friends, older kids. They laughed, probably harder in my memory than in real life. But it was enough embarrassment to keep me from writing anything more until much, much later.

In high school I gravitated to a bunch of punk rock hooligans who respected creativity. Hey, I thought, I know a shit ton of words, maybe I’ll give writing a try. So I wrote and wrote. I wrote poems and short stories. I tried to make every note I folded up and passed in class a masterpiece of existential angst or witty observation. I made chap books with friends’ artwork on the cover. I copied them off at Mail Boxes Etc. and gave them away.

I was going to write forever, be a poet, a writer, a reflection of the underground.

Then I went to college, and I wrote there too. I took a couple creative writing courses, but mostly I wrote a lot of essays and research papers, even a couple of theses. I worked on the craft of nonfiction.

After finishing my masters, I taught and I edited. I wrote lesson plans and graded papers. I deciphered the technospeak of engineers and translated to the layperson. I spent my days and many nights reading and fixing other people’s writing.

Then I was agoraphobic. I wrote at home. I wrote for Mensa: a blog for our local group and articles for the Mensa Journal. I wrote for a carbon neutral website. I wrote papers for journals I never submitted and presentations for conferences I never went to.

Then I stopped writing. It was too revealing, too stress inducing to smear myself all over the page and send it out into the world for others to judge.

As part of the treatment for my disabling anxiety, I started yoga. From there it’s on the public record: a self-help book, a history, a pretty substantial blog, a ton of training materials.

I guess the point is, I’ve written nearly all my life.

But it’s only now that I am writing fiction that I’ve started to think of myself as a “writer.” In a way, the word makes me cringe. I’ve known a lot of writers who are really full of themselves, who write just to hear themselves talk, who write fluffy, frilly things or totally obvious observations and think they’re deeply meaningful. I don’t want to be that kind of writer. I’m not in this to create literature or even what people might consider beauty.

I want to write things that make you say, “What!? Did she really just do that?” Or maybe just “Damn,” followed by a little chuckle. And on good days, I want to be the kind of writer who grabs readers by the balls, or lady-balls, or however you self-identify your balls, and twists. Yes, on very good days, I want to produce the verbal equivalent of testicular torsion.

That’s the kind of writer I want to be now.


M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands

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