All my life, the most prevalent advice on this topic has been deceptively simple. Q: How do you become a writer? A: Write.
This seems so ridiculously easy that anyone should be able to be a writer. If you love writing, just write, right?
Well, I have a complicated relationship with writing. I’ve been writing stories since I leaned to write. I was telling stories before I learned to write. I’ve been questioning the world around me since I could speak. If you’ve ever know a precocious child, you know that their favorite question will always be “Why?” even after you’ve given the best explanation you can give. I was like that. Luckily, I grew up in an environment where it was not only accepted, but encouraged. If my mom didn’t know the answer to my question, she would send me to my papa. If he didn’t know the answer, he would make something up. He told me that the sky was blue because it was reflecting off of my grandmother’s eyes. He told me that light bulbs worked because flipping the on switch made little blue monkeys inside the filament run, which made them hot, which made them glow. He was, and still continues to be, my biggest fan and greatest collaborator. He played “imagination games” with me. We would look at a spot and try to name all the colors we could see. We would try to think of three new uses for everyday objects, bonus points if you could think of a really good scenario in which to use them. I would tell him ideas and he would turn them into entire worlds. His memory has never been great, but he could retell stories from memory like nobody I’ve met since.
What I’m trying to tell you, is that I’ve basically been conditioned from a young age to be a writer. When other kids were playing guns or dolls or tag, I was in the garage putting on book signings, with my stuffed animals in line, ready to love me and my work. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said “A best-selling author”. No lie. Until, somewhere in middle school, I realized how many people want to do that and fail. That’s when my relationship with writing became complicated.
I still wanted to write. I still had a need to express the way I saw the world and the people in it, but my confidence in myself started flagging. I tried to be like other writers I knew of. Even fictional ones. I remember trying to be like Jo March, from Little Women, and put my hair up like she did, had special “writing clothes”, even tried writing with fountain pens on unlined paper. In high school, I decided that I’d take after the beatniks. I would only write if I were high. Some of it was really good. Some of it wasn’t. I even had a brief stint at my dad’s when I tried to Hemingway my way through writing. Which meant locking myself in my room with a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes, willing myself to just put something, anything down on paper.
All of this because nobody told me the most important thing about writing: It is so hard. You can have endless worlds built, characters fully formed and fleshed out, a complete religion set up, but pulling it from your mind is still hard. Putting it down, whether it’s electronically or on paper, is so damn difficult that sometimes it doesn’t even seem worth the effort.
But when I told my papa about those feelings, he told me the truth about writing. He taught me the real secret. He said, “Anyone can learn to write. But the people who must write are the ones who call themselves writers.”
I can quote that for you because I wrote it down.
That’s why I call myself a writer, even though I’ve never been payed to write, even though I don’t write every day, even though I haven’t finished any novels, and even though I have never actually participated in NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). I write meta about fandoms. I write thoughtful Facebook posts. I write articulate emails to my best friend when I have feelings about things. I write blog posts like this one. I must write. Sometimes I do it better on paper, sometimes I do it better online, sometimes I have to get drunk to get my thoughts out, often I have to have a cigarette in my hand, but I must do it.
To anyone struggling with the realities of writing, please remember this. If you feel the pull to write, you are a writer. Any writing that takes effort counts. And you don’t have to have writing credits to be a “real” writer. You just have to love doing it enough that you continue, even when it’s difficult.