In writing, there are always new goals to strive toward. There are also always new ways to feel less than.
I’m not a real writer if I’m only writing for work. I’m not a real writer if I’m writing genre fiction, or if I’m writing flash fiction. I’m not a real writer if I’m unpublished. I’m not a real writer if I don’t have a book.
There are so many ways to be a writer.
Number 1? You write.
My journey started early. I was three or four when I started feeling compelled to tell stories.
I needed to thank someone for a gift I had received, so I decided to draw a picture and make a card myself. I drew a penguin, for reasons I no longer remember. But when I did, I saw a life, and I wanted to explore it.
I couldn’t write yet, not really, so I drew and then dictated my stories to my mom. This penguin turned into a family of penguins in a series of books I created that grew with me, the faded, yellow pages cataloging what I must have been thinking about at the time, first in her neat script and then in my messy child’s handwriting.
I wrote these stories and others throughout my childhood and into middle school. I signed up for Power of the Pen, competing against others by writing timed, off-the-cuff flash fiction based off of prompts. I didn’t think to be self-conscious. I just enjoyed the act. And I even did pretty well. But then I took a detour.
In high school, I got involved in the local newspaper’s teen page. I loved it, and I found my place there. I don’t regret it for a second. The only regret I have is that I dedicated myself solely to journalism for the next decade or so and gave up my dream of writing fiction. I was good at journalism, and I could create a career in it, one that had a slightly more stable path than fiction. I still love it, and I am lucky enough to have a career in it.
I was a writer, then and now, even if I didn’t call myself that. But I also recognize that choosing reporting and setting fiction aside was a way of becoming less vulnerable. In journalism, you’re telling other people’s stories as best you can. You’re not telling your own. The observation it requires comes naturally to me. You can hide behind it.
But a few years ago, something in me was ready to try writing my own stories again. It turns out that I, no matter how independent I think myself, needed to find my people and learn how to put myself out there. I ran cross country in high school, and I see such parallels to writing. Running, and writing (and, well, life), are in many ways solitary activities, but they are easier with the support of a team you trust behind you.
For me, I went to Literary Cleveland’s first Inkubator, a free literary festival, and ended up taking a class with a teacher who runs a workshop in the Cuyahoga County library system. I ended up joining that workshop group, where I learned how to be critiqued and wrote some of the first pieces of fiction I ever published. I also took part in a spin-off group of talented women who pushed my writing even further.
Those workshops helped me learn how to share my stories, how to reach out and ask for feedback, how to know what criticisms to take to heart and when to let my instincts stand.
It’s taken a while, but I’m comfortable thinking of myself as a “real” writer, regardless of where I am in my writing journey. If you want to do the same, start trusting your inner voice, stop moving the goalposts and, most importantly, get writing.