I enlisted a writing buddy about a year before I started writing. We’d meet every couple of weeks – her to hand me some writing, me to hand her some excuses. Filing my nails was very important during this time of my life, apparently. And bagging donations for Vietnam Vets.
So this was a lot of fun for my partner, but her confidence in our arrangement never waivered. Her confidence in me never waivered.
“You are a writer,” she’d say after yet another meeting when I’d show up with nothing.
I’d retort with a not. “I’m not acting like it.”
But I could never persuade her to my lameness, and after awhile, she upped the ante and started texting me in between our meetings. You are a writer. I’d roll my eyes. I’d barely read the words. I started to wonder what she was about and exactly who I’d linked myself with. Because I wasn’t a writer – as in, I wasn’t writing. I was just thinking about writing, and even those thoughts weren’t about the writing itself so much as why writing was a bad idea and as dicey a career path as making a living out of buying lottery tickets.
Of course I hadn’t thought that as a girl. Ask my middle-school self what I wanted to do when I grew up? “Write historical romance novels,” I’d respond without hesitation. Unabashed bodice rippers, people. Naughty dukes who tryst about with governesses along the English countryside. Give me an hour, and I could still draft you a helluva scene. It’s a gift.
My girl-self spoke her dreams so readily, but she set them apart – probably in one of those romantic circular rooms of a turret in a castle, from which everything her golden pen touched would receive acclaim far and wide (when said public could break long enough from their trysts to read her stuff, that is). She didn’t know how dreams must eventually intersect with life. She didn’t know about paying bills or that writing doesn’t pay them, which means that to be a writer is to work a second job. She didn’t know about working out her dreams as a member of a family, which means that to be a writer is to work graveyard hours that don’t conflict. She didn’t know about how failure can paralyze or how exhaustion can run deeper than a third cup of coffee. Or how doubt can move from a suspicion to a steady whisper. You will never do this. This will never work. This is waste of your time.
And she didn’t know the power of a friend – one friend – to answer back. You are a writer.
But I’m not writing. You will.
But what if I don’t finish? You will finish.
But what if no one reads it? I will read it.
But I don’t know how to write a book …
And you know? I didn’t. I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t know how to write a chapter. But I had enough training to know how to write a pretty darn good sentence, and I understood the principles of mathematics enough to know that sentences can concatenate into chapters, and a sum of chapters can eventually equal a book. Dreams set in turrets are fun notions, but they cloud the nature of the work, maybe as much as their naysaying counterparts. Maybe someone other than my writing buddy would read my book. Maybe not. Maybe I’d make enough someday to quit the other job. Maybe not. But the ends don’t make the writer, the daily addition does. Sentences to chapters to book.
And the math works! Fast-forward two years, and I’ve finished my first book. But this book isn’t what makes me a writer. I became a writer the day I claimed my name and worked accordingly.
So easy to end it here! But you’re not off the hook, right? Because this blog is a sharing space, a risky space. I don’t know your specifics, but I bet there’s something you’re itching to claim. Put down the nail file for a minute and acknowledge it. Is it still hard to see? That’s probably because you set it up high in a turret. Bring it on down.
I bet it looks a little more real down here – maybe even real enough for a real girl like yourself to claim … if it weren’t for the whispers telling you otherwise. I don’t know if the doubt ever goes away, but it doesn’t need to win the argument. And if you can’t win it for yourself just now, find someone to win it for you with a steady reminder. You are a …
If you’re a tough case like this other girl I know, you’ll disbelieve it. You’ll roll your eyes. But eventually you’ll remember your math: sentences to paragraphs to book. Alarm to coffee (to more coffee) to getting your real work done before you report to your other job. Today to tomorrow to the rest of the week. The math works, but the math doesn’t make the girl. The girl makes the math happen.