|Photo by Susan Mark|
I struggled with this question for years, in part because I came to writing accidentally. Sure, I always knew I had some natural ability at it from a mechanical standpoint. I think I blitzed through college on the strength of proper sentence construction. But all writing brought anxiety, and creative writing resulted in the deer-headlights phenomenon.
In the early '90s, after a winter of working in a ski rental shop, I applied to a local newspaper for an advertising sales job. The sales manager handed my resume to the editor and said, “This one smells like a writer.” I got an interview. My entire “journalism” background was as a service assistant for the Dayton Daily News – one bare step above paper carrier. For a writing sample, I rifled through the archives and found a history paper on the cult of relics (dead saint body parts) in the Middle Ages.
Miraculously, she hired me. Apparently, she never liked to interview more than one person unless forced to. The first time I saw my name on the byline, I couldn't believe it. The first time I made a major flub, I wanted to crawl under my desk and never come out. Everyone makes mistakes on the job, but at a newspaper 7,000 people see it.
For some reason, I did not think of my newspaper job as real writing. Those creative writers were the real ones. The ones who wrote with rapture about their half-filled notebooks strewn everywhere and their bedsheets stained from ballpoint pens. The ones who always just knew they wanted to write. The ones who could not go a day without writing.
I was intimidated by these “real” writers. I was just a reporter, not a poet. I stuck to this story even after I left the ski town. It was my first writing group that convinced me to look in the mirror and say “I am a writer.”
I am a poet now – a middlin' one, but a poet. I write essays and dabble in fiction. I still don't do many of the things that allegedly make a real writer. I don't write every day. For right now, I'm not devoting energy to getting much published. I leave the keyboard at rest when the muse takes a break. Writing still comes with angst, but I still do it.
I accept that this is how my writing life is unfolding for now. I don't need to force it. More may come later. I may have come to the realization late, but I can look in the mirror now and say without hesitation, “I am a writer.”
How about you? Did you always know you were a writer, or did you come to that conclusion over time?