Artwork by Michael D. Reeves
I have read several articles recently on the topic of when it’s acceptable to call yourself a ‘writer.’ I can commiserate with the individuals penning these existential dilemmas on authorial status because despite churning out a one-hundred thousand page novel (rewrite in progress) and eleven (and a half) short stories in the past eight months, four of which have been published, two of which have been accepted for publication, I still find myself choking on the sentence ‘I am a writer’ whenever those words find cause to be on the tip of my tongue.
I have been a student, a waitress, a gymnast, a dancer, a research assistant, a mail room clerk, an intern, a volunteer, a recovery advocate, a mental health counselor, and a clinical trial support specialist. With the exception of maybe a gymnast and a dancer, in order to designate yourself as any one of these titles you must only pronounce it to be so. Even an eight-year old at her first practice session will proudly call herself a gymnast once she’s wriggled her decidedly un-gymnasty body into a crushed velvet leotard.
And yet, when can you christen yourself a ‘writer?’ Is it when you’ve written one short story? Or is it only once you’ve had a story published? Do you have to wait until you’ve signed with an agent? Or has your moment arrived when someone recognizes you on the street as the author of ‘such-and-such?’
Prior to sitting down with the intention to create a piece of prose with a fully-realized story arc, I had thought that the voice in my head, the incessant whisper that demanded to be fueled, was only good for one thing: navigating me onto new paths of destruction. After getting into recovery from drugs and alcohol a second time, I wondered if perhaps I could cultivate that voice to put words to paper, to make stories from the whispers. As an English major at the University of Pennsylvania, I learned many of the tools with which to write, but now I wanted to use my experiences to inform those words.
Stuck on a train for six hours in June of 2015, traveling from Baltimore back to my hometown of Westerly, Rhode Island, I revisited Stephen King’s ‘On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft,’ and the one-hundred and seventy-eight books he recommends in the books final pages. I have had several experiences where the reverberations of reading transcended the act—analyzing ‘Life of Pi’ while in rehab, channeling Scarlet O’Hara as a rebellious high school student—but setting out to read a diverse collection of books whose authors had mastered their craft, well in this case I was inspired to write, not read.
A month or two later, while zoning out during a weekly team meeting at the pharmaceutical company that constitutes my day job, I was struck with an idea for a novel. By the end of the meeting, I had scribbled down an entire outline including characters, setting, and major plot points and by the end of the day, I had the first four pages written. After that, the words came pouring out in torrents and it hit me: I had been ‘writing’ for years, but the words had been imprisoned behind the stubborn confines of my skull.
I was a world-commentator, a self-story teller, and for years I was clueless as to the purpose of this practice. At one point I actually contemplated if their lay within me the heart of an actress, since I was narrating the story of my life as well as spinning side-plots throughout any given situation much like I imagined an actor or actress would do when working through a scene. I lived in Los Angeles for a brief period so I’m grateful I never pursued this mad notion; I might be waiting tables in the City of Angels instead of wrapping up my first blog post!
I am thankful that through a series of events—events that were not always desirable or deliberate—I have found my passion; I want only to persevere in that passion by writing daily, and continuing to take stock from those who have traveled the path before me and mastered the way. Oh, and calling myself a writer couldn’t hurt, either. I guess I have always been one.