Six years ago today I finished my first book. It was the fruition of all faith, courage, and optimism I had. I wanted to be a writer. I was so excited to have a book- a real book- that I had written AND finished, that I exhausted my Costco printer cartridge just so I could hold it in my hands. I smelled the fresh ink on the page and imagined the possibilities
Yet, it was never published. And rightly so, as it really had no right to be. And I wasn't the only one who thought so. So I tucked it into a bookshelf where it sat for six years. Six years hidden. Six years, with no apparent purpose.
As of today I have two inspirational nonfiction books traditionally published-one was just released last week. I have an awesome literary agent who is shopping a novel and two more inspirational nonfiction books I've written. And yet . . . just the other day my husband asked me if I felt like a real writer and I answered no. I just needed one more book, then I'd know I was a good writer, that it wasn't all a fluke, some joke I wasn't in on. If I wrote one more book, then I'd know I was a real writer- as if five books weren't enough.
And the truth is, five books aren't enough. Neither is six or ten or fifty because doubt has no expiration number.
I've been pondering his question, or more aptly, my response to his question, the last few days. Why did I not yet feel like a 'real' writer? I came up with some answers that I felt were quite legitimate:
1. I didn't have an author photo that made me look smart. I was perusing some very successful authors and I realized most of their pictures were of them looking pensive, concerned, or with a hint of a smile, as if they were hiding a secret from the rest of us. They all looked smart. I considered getting a new headshot with my reader glasses, gray roots, and a straight face that would make me a real writer.
2. Real writers write books over 100,000 words long. I don't have the fortitude nor the attention span to conquer such a feat.
3. Real writers don't have to bribe friends to come to their book signings because they are tired of sitting at the table alone.
I don't have a secret in my sly smile, or a book over 100k, and yes, I did bribe friends to come to signings with candy and food. Maybe if I had another book I'd be legit.
Then I picked up this book today and my answer suddenly changed.
I don't need one more book to feel like a real writer, because the truth is, I've always been one. It's not what I've done, or what I will do, that makes me a writer; it is who I am. I'm not saying I'm a successful writer. Or even a good writer. But I AM a writer.
I wrote this first book because I'm in love with lassoing thoughts and wrangling them into reality through the keyboard- making ideas into sentences and sentences into messages and stories. It's my therapy, my happy place.
And yet, somehow, the more I wrote the more I felt the need to qualify my role of writer. "I will be a writer when I finish a book. When I publish a book. When I publish two books. When I'm asked to speak to crowds. When I publish three books." I allowed outward accomplishments to define who I was.
Today, as I held this book in my hands, I realized the fictional story I've been telling myself over the last six years, the story of a girl who wants to be a writer and maybe will be if only . . .
I am a writer.
And to my writer friends, so are you. Whether you're unpublished or published a dozen times over; whether you've been rejected once or a thousand times; whether you've written a million words or just a hundred- you ARE a writer.
Once you acknowledge this- once you accept that you are a writer now, through and though- you can turn your focus from legitimizing your role as a writer to improving the way you- a writer- express yourself. You can hone your craft without apologizing for how much you have to learn. You can get feedback on your work without wondering if red marks on a page are proof you're not a writer. You can stare at the blank screen of a new work-in-progress and not feel the need to prove anything; you can just write, because you are a writer.
You can even not write for a while and still be a writer; because it's who you are. Not what you do.
Now, if you want to be a published writer, a famous writer, or a New York Times bestselling selling author, that's a different story. These are things we do- when hard work, perseverance, luck, and the stars align in just the right way all come together. They are awesome milestones and accomplishments. Writers can work for these things to happen if that's what they want, but these things don't make us writers.
I shelved this book six years ago, sad that I was rejected by publishers. It was a failure. I thought I'd keep writing. Keep trying. I wanted to prove I could be a writer. And tonight this same book reminded me I've always been one.
And chances are, so have you.