So You Want to Be a Writer?

So You Want to Be a Writer?

The hardest thing that I have found about being a writer is making the claim that I am a writer. This probably sounds a little strange, so let me elaborate.

I started writing over the winter break of my sophomore year of college, right after I changed my major from Business to English. I had always been an avid reader, and one day while I was reading one of those free books on the Kindle app and I had a thought. 

Wow. 

This is really poorly written. I can totally do better than that. 

Challenge accepted. 

I mean, I was a newly minted English major, I couldn’t possibly refuse something like that—even if I had given myself the challenge.

I opened a GoogleDoc on my laptop and started writing. First paragraph was a breeze. By the time I finished the first chapter, I knew I would be the next Tolkien, the next J.K. Rowling, the next G.R.R. Martin! I showed the chapter to a few family members and they loved it. I mean, why wouldn’t they? I know I’m a great writer. Or at least I thought I was.

Fast-forward to my first writing workshop. I submitted a chapter of the nascent novel I started during those early days as an English major. I expected the same response from my classmates that I got from my family. Now, for those of you who have taken part in a writing workshop before, and maybe even those who haven’t, I’m sure you know what actually happened during my critique. 

It was brutal. I was so mad at all my classmates. How could they not appreciate my masterpiece? They just didn’t understand me or they were just jealous. Right? From there, my thoughts began spirling:

 What if I really do suck at writing? Did I make a mistake in becoming an English major? Is my degree going to amount to nothing more than having the most grammatically correct sign on the street corner as I beg for change to survive?

My confidence was so low, I quit writing. I still submitted assignments for class, of course, but I never put my heart into any of them because I was scared it would be shattered again. I almost changed my major again after that first semester, but I figured I wouldn’t graduate on time if I did, so I stuck it out. 

Shortly after school let out for the summer I went to a bar and spotted my professor from the writing workshop. Several drinks in by that time, I was convinced that my only option was to go speak to her and air my grievances about the workshop. After my rant had concluded, she looked me in the eye and asked me if I was a writer. To which I replied, “Well, I certainly want to be a writer…”

She shook her head and said, “You either are a writer, or you aren’t. There is no trying, no wanting.”

It took me nearly five years—and a couple more painful workshops—but I think I’m starting to understand. My best creative period was that initial few months before my first fateful workshop. Sure, the work I put out may have been crap—and it totally was—but that innocent time where I was unafraid of what I wrote, where I enjoyed the simple act of storytelling, that was me at my creative best. I was a writer then. I am a writer now. 

Why? 

Because I write.That is all it takes. Sure, you have to practice your craft, be thick skinned in workshops, and take the critiques you receive in stride in order to improve how you write. But all you need is the hubris to state that you are a writer, not that you want to be a writer. Because if you can make that claim, if you can live that claim, you are a writer.

R.D. Abel
R.D. Abel

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