I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. That might sound cute, but I wrote because I was a lonely child with a bad case of anxiety and shyness and only one or two friends at a time, sometimes none. Or at least, that’s how it felt. I was convinced I’d be alone for the rest of my life, growing up to be a lonesome spinster with long white hair and only a garden to keep her company. Sometimes, I still feel that way.
In high school, I wrote poetry, and my high school teachers encouraged me to go to college and study literature. But I was stubborn and rebellious, certain that I wanted to become an architect. I wound up studying history instead, determined to be a lawyer. So I finished my fourth year of college with film and theater classes, began screenwriting, and I decided I’d become a filmmaker. I moved to Austin, Texas, where I dabbled in administrative jobs and avant garde theater. I never did anything with film.
After several years of being frustrated with my non-career path, I realized I had wanted to be a writer all along. Even in theater, I enjoyed writing pieces more than I did performing them. So I went back to school to get my MFA in creative writing. That was supposed to be it – my final and official conversion to the life of a writer.
But even throughout graduate school, I struggled to finish my stories, and I dreaded editing. None of my work ever developed into second or third drafts. But the revision process was key to being a true writer! Without any revised drafts, I never felt confident enough to submit my work to journals or contests. By the time I completed the MFA program, I was ready to take a break. A year or two maybe, but that eventually turned into a ten-year break.
I did write here and there – on and off in my blog, articles for obscure magazines, a monthly column in a local community newspaper. Out of desperation to make a living as a writer, I became a content marketing writer, but that just ended up sucking out my soul.
So now I find myself at thirty-eight and a half years old, calling myself a writer, and when people ask where they can find my pieces, I sheepishly explain that I’m still working on my short story collection (or novel, depending on what day you ask me). As a consolation prize, I offer up my blog, which some days, really just feels like a personal diary that I’ve opened up to the world.
But 2014 was the year of making positive changes in my life, and 2015 would be the year I’d publish a short story or two. I did manage to submit a story (that went through two revisions!) to The Austin Chronicle short story contest. (Read the original here.) Although it didn’t win, it was a big first step for me. I have to admit, I did get a rush out of printing out the story and sealing it in the brown envelope with a cover letter, delivering it to the post office with one hour to spare before the deadline.
And I’m currently working on a new story that I’ll submit somewhere by the end of June. Eventually I’ll go back to the story I submitted at the end of 2014. I’m already looking forward to taking it through a third revision. (I don’t know why I had such an aversion to editing – I almost enjoy it more than writing.)
Aside from ending an unhealthy, ten-year relationship, getting a new job that allowed me to reconnect with the community while creating boundaries between work and personal life, and regularly exercising and meditating, the main thing that helped with my writing was writing. You either write, or you don’t write. Sporadic writing is better than not writing at all, but like playing an instrument or exercising, the best writing only comes from doing it often.
I used to write a few days out of the month, but now I write every day. Some days, it’s just a 5 or 10 minute writing exercise. But the fact that I do it every day has made the possibility of publishing more realistic. Sure, it will have taken me seven months to complete two short stories. But I went ten years without writing a single short story. One step at a time.
There are days I get impatient and aggravated – it’s not happening quickly enough. Even if I manage to publish a short story this year, which will be a challenge because for some writers, it can take years, when will I get around to releasing an entire short story collection with a well-known publisher? There are writers in their twenties who are so far ahead of me. At this rate, I won’t catch up until I’m in my fifties.
There are days I doubt myself. Is my writing even good enough? Neither my professors nor my peers in the MFA program seemed impressed. My exes never seemed interested in reading my work, and when they did, they found it to be ridiculous or, as one of them coined it, “literary dross.” (I had to look that up in the dictionary.)
Who will want to read my work? Should I wonder if I should just call it quits and have a regular life revolving around a day job, simple hobbies, and raising children. But I can’t. There are very few things I’d regret in life and giving up writing is one of them. I just can’t imagine leaving this earth with an obituary that described me as a hobby writer or blogger. Because I know that’s not who I am.
So what’s keeping me from throwing myself fully into my writing? Fear. Fear of being a terrible writer. Fear of rejection. Fear of criticism. Fear of exposing myself. Fear of telling truths that people don’t want to hear. Fear of telling truths I don’t want to hear.
Being a writer can suck. But not being a writer, for me, would suck more.
It’s time to stop being scared.
And if you continue reading my blog and my stories to come, I’m warning you now. I don’t care what you think. And more importantly, I don’t care what I think, because it’s the thinking part of my brain that always holds me back. So I’m going to follow the feelings, the pulse in my veins, the breath in my lungs, the wind in my hair, the dirt on my hands, the things that make me angry, the things that make me cry, and the things that make me laugh as if I’ve lost my mind.