“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” ~ Somerset Maugham
I have been sparring with a question.
Until recently the question had me on the ropes, reeling, ducking each time anyone asked: “What do you do?” My heart has always been clear, ready to declare “ I’m a writer.’’
But somehow the words would always get tangled, twisted and ultimately trumped by the easier choice. “I’m a former journalist.’’
See, I could prove the old me. Whip out my cache of ancient business cards, yellowed news clippings and BAM, I was real.
Yet, Nichole the writer, well, she’s lived mostly in my head. Undercover, I’d write a piece or two. But at each turn, I’d run from the chance to publicly own my creative identity.
I put the writer in me on hold, hoping my stories would await their freedom. But when my freedom came, courtesy of a cruel, flat economy, the page was the last place I turned. A fast draining bank account backed me into a corner. “Choose between making a living and living creative,” said a not so nice voice in my head . So I chose. The first job in sight.
Again my words and my true identity would have to wait.
I made believe I was cool with the choice. Yet the tremble in my hand and stutter in my voice unmasked me every time. My young daughter was the one who showed me the silliness of my struggle. This is how it happened, one morning at the breakfast table:
“Mommy what you do,?’’ She needed an answer for a classroom assignment. With no time to puff up my chest or to punt, I gave her the bare truth. “I write.”
The words rolled free so easily, they echoed in my ears.
By day, I work as a ninja like copy-writer for arts and nonprofit organizations to pay the bills. At night, and often at dawn, I build word bridges to the stars through essays and poems.
Suddenly, the illusion that I had to choose went POOF! I am a writer, period, end of story.
In my surrender, I’m finally secure. I am old enough to know and to honor writing as a process.
We writers aren’t created by osmosis or by the fickle preferences of publishers. We emerge “bird by bird, to borrow the wisdom of one of my favorite word gurus, Anne Lamott,or, as I like to say, by submitting butt-in-seat, no matter what.
Blood on the page is how I know who I am and it’s how I douse my despair that my gift will follow me to the grave, unwrapped. Whether a publisher ever falls smitten with me is beyond my control. I’ve discovered myself, and that’s enough to keep me engaged.
Yes, occasionally, I’m still rattled by the question and I still reach, sometimes, for my former self or the false comfort of my current paying gigs. But mostly, I write. I wince. And write some more.
This is my practice. The work that lets me know: Yes, I am a writer.
Nichole – recovering journalist, essayist, poet – has worn the staff writer hat at some of journalism’s biggies: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The Detroit Free Press. Today, she’s most proud of who she’s becoming. A writer carefully reclaiming her love of words, she draws great inspiration from her work as communications director for InsideOut Literary Arts Project, an arts education nonprofit in Detroit. Her essay, “Truth at Last” was published in the anthology “Dear Dad: Reflections of Fatherhood,” WestSide Press. A wife and a mother, Nichole is currently at work on her first full collection. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Fam, have you also wrestled with Nichole’s question? When is a writer a writer for you?