All of the comments on yesterday's post were so good. I didn't need to add to my list, since you all were doing it for me. I couldn't find a single thought in that long list that I haven't had myself. So, we all have the list. Those of us who aren't 'doing it', those of us who are, and I promise that those who are doing it with fame and recognition have it, too. I've fought my battle with mine, and made my peace, for now. As can you. I brought it up because I don't want you to think that this work doesn't cost me something.
Next, I'm going to do my best to tell you the story of how I went from having a list of good reasons not to be a writer, to being a writer.
What finally got my attention was joy. Specifically, the way in which it goes missing when we're trying to run and hide from our true vocations. I could do other lines of work, and even experience a moderate amount of success, but when I really took on the question of why I wasn't succeeding in a big way when I felt perfectly capable, I saw finally that I didn't love that work. While I was in this inquiry, I also started getting flashbacks from my younger years (and I wrote more extensively of this on my About page). I remembered that as a child, I always wanted to be a writer. I remembered the moment I changed my course. And I decided that I could trust the work that was calling me, back when I believed anything was possible. That's when I started to write.
First, I was just writing things in a journal, and then when I told my friend, Phyllis, she said, "You should write a blog." I, of course, replied, "What's a blog?" And so this space was born, a couple homes ago, in 2005.
I think it's impossible to look back and not see with hindsight all the nudgings that were working on you along the way. I loved the writing of Madeleine L'Engle, and I devoured everything she wrote about creativity and the writing life, even in those years in which I was submerged. It all felt so kindred to me, and when my husband bought me Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I was finally convinced: I don't hate writing--this is actually how most writers feel all the time.
So then there was the question of what to write. (I can't believe I'm telling you all of this.) I had no idea what I was good at, so I decided to try it all and see what turned out. So, I started with a practice novel. I know. Way to ease in slowly, right?
I finished the novel, and sent it around to a few friends. It's about many things, but it follows a woman who is was a poet and faces the question, what result will make that work worth recovering, worth doing? Is it worth writing if you're only known locally? If you make a difference to a few people and never end up in a literature textbook?
If you're really wired to be a writer, I think the answer is, Yes. I think, as Phyllis has so aptly observed about me, that I take comfort in the narrative I weave about my life. I would write no matter what else came of it, simply to sort out, to make sense of, and bear witness to my own story. I don't think I could stop writing (privately, at least) now if I tried. I must make sense of my story. I must bear witness to this life, make some kind of account.
The most common feedback I had about that novel was about how much my readers liked the poetry. I've been writing more poetry ever since. I think I've done a little of everything by now.
This is just a quick, rough brush at why I write. It didn't come out pretty, but it's some necessary information before I tell you the story of why I share my work--why I risk and work to put it 'out there'. That's coming next time.