I have not always been able to identify myself as a writer. Growing up I often enjoyed curling deep into my comforter to write pages and pages of ideas and stories in my Trapper Keeper notebook. These pages and stories were not something I openly shared and I wrote exclusively in secret. I feared the criticism and opinions of others and therefore I wanted to keep my words close to me. And while I did this, I never thought I was actually talented at writing. School essays would be assigned and I would be paralyzed, unable to think of what I could write that would be considered “good enough” or fit the strict format decided by my teachers. My papers would bleed red ink and sit at the bottom of my backpack with corrections and question marks. I felt pretty worthless when it came to writing because I didn’t know how to do it to get the approval or grade I needed. And therefore, I self-classified myself as being novice or inexperienced. Really anything but a writer.
What makes someone a writer? I get asked this question a lot and it is something that I wonder myself. Am I a writer? I enjoy writing but I haven’t published anything you could buy in Barnes & Noble, I am not paid to write professionally, and I certainly do not carry MFA in my pocket. I do however, teach creative writing with the Houston non-profit, Writers In the Schools and I write in my writer’s notebook essays, poems, and stories almost daily. My students often ask me at the beginning of my residencies with them, “Are you a writer?” and for some reason I stutter slowly as I reply, “Yes”. Why is that? Why am I not able to proudly pronounce myself as a Writer?
Perhaps it is the fact that I went to school to become a teacher and for almost 10 years was paid as in this profession. It was a role I identified with since it consumed most of my daylight hours from September to June. But writing, that was my hobby and what fed me when I needed to be brought down to reality. Even as a young adult, it wasn’t something I shared with anyone, it was my restorative spa with a reservation for only one. So how I could I proclaim I was a writer when I had other identities that were easier to explain?
I often tell students, “You are writers! You write and therefore you are a writer!” and many times they don’t believe it right away. Mostly this is because in our society we view roles such as writer, doctor, lawyer, artist, as requiring some external validation. Obtaining a degree, passing an exam, selling a painting, or publishing a book. When adults spew these impressive achievements it convinces others yes, I am deserving of this title but unfortunately it can also diminish the smaller yet to be recognized accomplishments. If we want our students and young writers to believe in their identity as writers, shouldn’t we as adults consider the emphasis placed on these credentials to defining roles?
What I believe is this: I write because I have something to say and when I write my thoughts, feelings, and ideas down it makes me feel more understood. I realized how much my writing mattered when I started blogging and submitting writing, taking writer’s workshops, and sharing my stories with my students. And I have found that the more I write, the more powerful my once quiet voice becomes and the more confident I am to say, I am a writer. And each time I am asked, my words are stronger when I reply, “Yes”.