For many years I never dared call myself a writer. Which is funny, because it’s all I’ve ever been. My earliest memories all involve books, scribbling on stacks of notepaper, and dreaming up adventures and characters and plots. The world wasn’t an easy place for me as a kid, and I found solace and friendship and understanding between the pages of books. As I grew up, the pattern continued. And writing wasn’t just what I did for fun, it quickly formed the basis of all the jobs I’ve ever had. And even while I was producing this work and being hired for more writing projects, I still never called myself a writer. I was always something else, someone who just happened to have written this certain thing, but not a writer, no, of course not, not me.
And then one day a colleague very kindly asked me why that was. Why did I scramble and struggle and use a million different explanations to describe what it was that I did when what I did was actually so simple? You write, she said, you’re a writer.
I went home and thought about it.
Then I wrote about it.
And eventually I understood.
I realized it had taken so long for me to think of myself as a writer because I first had to unlearn years of the poisoning of my self-esteem that had begun back when I was too young to even know right from wrong. As a kid, I was too young to understand that most children don’t have to fight for their dignity and soul-preservation every single day, and those seeds of insecurity and self-doubt were planted deep into the soil of my being.
To think of yourself as a writer, you have to admit to yourself (and to the world – the horror!) that what you are saying is worthy of attention. You have to believe that your words are worthy enough to ask for someone’s time and understanding. And when you have been told again and again that you are worthless, it takes a lot of convincing to make yourself believe otherwise.
After that realization, I forced myself to unlearn the habit of hiding who and what I was. I stopped qualifying my actions and my reasons for writing, then I started to own it.
I write. I am a writer. I exist to write.
Maybe you can relate?
For an endless variety of foul-mouthed reasons, many of us reach adulthood not filled with confidence, but leeched empty of everything but the fetid remnants of self-doubt and self-loathing. We won’t admit it, of course, we’re fine, thanks for asking, but if we stop for one minute, there it is.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
Because of this fear, there are too many threads of truth and consciousness that remain swallowed inside of their carrier forever, stagnating beneath an impossibly heavy carcass of shame and embarrassment. I hope that more of us can learn to cast off this burden and own our truth and admit who we are. We all have a story to tell. We all have hidden within ourselves untyped words, unused denouements, and unheard of climaxes. When we write, we share ourselves with the world, and we light the way for others to follow.
Maybe you have a feeling somewhere inside of you that you might secretly be a writer, too. Perhaps it’s too scary to jump right into the deep end, so take a look around, there are other ways to tell you’ve got a writer’s heart beating inside your chest just waiting to be set free.
5 signs you are secretly a writer:
1. You have an insatiable need to explain things. Do you think to yourself after every situation: how would I explain this to someone? How could I describe the way the sunlight glinted off of the broken glass? What word would I use to explain the way his laughter sounded sad because of the humid air and buzz of mosquitos? If you do this, you might be a writer. I sometimes felt like I was crazy, needing to totally understand every situation I was in in a way that could be explained to others later. For years I would wonder where this compulsion came from. Why do I feel the need to figure out exactly how to convey this emotion, that thought, or the sweet and salty smell of the skin at the nape of his neck? Why? What was the purpose? Now I know.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anais Nin
2. Notebooks, notebooks, and more notebooks! Look around your house. Are there notebooks stacked precariously over every surface? Are there drawers stuffed full of notebooks with each page covered in notes and half-scrawled stories? As writers, our minds are constantly churning out character sketches, fragments of conversations, little plot seedlings, all of which are the building blocks for a novel or short story. And even if we aren’t ready to face the fact that we are a writer, these ideas have got to go somewhere. A ramshackle collection of half-filled notebooks is a definite sign you are secretly a writer, and just one step away from starting the book that lives inside of you.
3. Are you a word hoarder? It goes without saying that your house is filled with books, and that your to-read list is in the hundreds and growing daily. But, if you might secretly be a writer, you hoard words in other ways, too. Not just in bulk, with heaving bookshelves and an overstuffed Kindle, but you hunt and sift for potent distillations of word perfection, and you squirrel them away to treasure later. I have notebooks and Word documents stuffed to the brim with quotes that have made me gasp, made me cry, and made me fall back on my bed drunk on the sheer beauty of their rhythm…and if you’re secretly a writer, I’ll bet you do, too.
4. When it comes to an amazing book, it’s complicated. There is nothing better than reading a good book. But if you’re secretly a writer, there’s sometimes nothing worse. A beautifully written and flawlessly crafted novel makes me unbearably happy, but at the same time, it also can give me a major case of hopeless insecurity. I’ve read books so dazzling that at the same time they inspire me to rush to my writing desk and pick up a pen, they also paralyze me with the suspicion that I shouldn’t even bother because I’ll never be able to reach such dizzying heights of perfection. Writers are a notoriously competitive and insecure bunch, and if this has happened to you, maybe you’re secretly a writer.
5. Through it all, through all of the mean and bad and ugly, through all of the pummeling your self-esteem has taken, through all of the sleepless nights when you knew it wasn’t worth it, through the endless rejections, through it all….the stories remain. The words remain. The need remains. Even when you think your heart can’t take another let-down, when you think you are utterly bereft of anything worthwhile to add to this world, it remains. That need, that skin-tingling yearning to pick up your pen or to thunder away at your keyboard, to tear the words out of your soul and fix them to the paper in front of you, it is always there. Being a writer means that through it all, even through years or decades of refusing to admit it to yourself, that spark has existed inside of you, patiently waiting, dwindling but never dying. It’s still there, waiting to be fed and tended and nourished, and the first step is recognizing it for what it is – the secret soul of a writer.
“You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have to say something.”
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
So, what do you think? Are you secretly a writer? Well, what are you going to do about it?
The world needs more fearless people sharing their truth. Delving inside of yourself, pulling the words out, teasing out the stories that need to be told, is never easy. But it is always important. It is always needed.
Be brave, be courageous, own your truth, and write.
“If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”
~ Cynthia Ozick