Before You’re a Writer

by limebirdkate

Lately I’ve been thinking that if I had known more about myself and the courage and knowledge needed to embark on the writing journey, I would have been successful by now.

I wish I’d had a mentor, someone I could have talked to about the craft of writing. I also wish that I’d vocalized my desire to people who cared. What if I’d told my parents how serious I was about writing, rather than passing it off as a simple hobby? If I’d known how difficult it would be, I wouldn’t have taken my passion for granted. I should have kept my stories, even the terrible ones, because seeing how I’ve grown as a writer would have encouraged me to keep trying. I wish I’d gone to graduate school for my MFA. I should have taken the job at the paper. What if I had started submitting short stories back in college?

Then I remembered I was a writer long before I realized it. All I knew was that I had a wild, unexplained yearning to create stories with imaginary people I somehow knew. I had no fighting chance. For me, being a writer is a calling. There was no escape.

Sometimes, writers don’t even decide to be writers. Rather, we accidentally fall in love with storybuilding. Forget planning futures and budgets and retirement. We are so rip-roaring drunk on words that we can’t tear ourselves away long enough to think logically, rationally.

For those of us who are writers long before we recognized the symptoms, how could we possibly prepare ourselves in advance? No wonder I didn’t have a mentor. No wonder I didn’t keep my early stories. Should I really be surprised? I didn’t know what I was! I didn’t know I was already on my quest. Just think. I have lived the majority of my life at the behest of invisible people with messed-up lives.

This realization does soothe me. If I’d decided to be a doctor or a carpenter, my journey would have been mapped out a bit more clearly. There are specific guidelines for those kinds of professions. But writing, like any art form, evolves from a mystical place deep inside. For some, there is a direct hit, a definitive moment when we know right away, I want to be a writer.

For me though, my desire to write was such a normal part of my being it’s safe to say that’s what I always wanted to do. There was no definitive moment. No date to commemorate my newfound passion. I didn’t think anything of it because it was always there.

Before I was a writer, I should have known that’s what I was. Before I was a writer, I found a magic in stories unlike any other place. Before I was a writer in my head, I was a writer in my soul.

Did you know you were a writer before you were a writer?

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78 Responses to “Before You’re a Writer”

  1. I love this post Kate! I think I’ve always known I’ve been a writer, ever since I was a child. It was like this thing that always needs to come out, the need and desire to write just bubbled up from underneath me. Really interesting though, I’m looking forward to seeing all the comments! 🙂

    • Hey Beth, I think that’s how it is for a lot of writers — a need — not necessarily a want, we feel something much more intense.

  2. This is such a lovely post! I loved writing and reading from as far back as I can remember. I remember my first reading lesson at primary school – how those letters seemed to rearrange themselves and make perfect sense! And I remember reading a comic story and thinking I wanted to write my own, so begging a notebook from my mum and beginning my first ever novel. It was a hundred pages long and had an illustration on every other page but I was totally absorbed in it. I think I was around seven. I loved English classes at school. When we were asked to write a story I always had to ask for a new exercise book because my stories ran into chapters!

    Yet, never once did I think I was a writer, or could be a writer. Writers just weren’t ordinary people. In spite of my “undoubted talent” (the words of my English teacher, not me!) I was never told I could actually do this as a career.

    I was steered firmly towards secretarial work. Writing was something you did as a hobby. Real writers existed in a land of country houses, and were way out of my league. I do wish someone had told me the truth and given me more encouragement. Maybe then I wouldn’t have put my writing to one side to concentrate on “real life” for so many years, feeling guilty and just a little bit ashamed whenever I sat down to pen a story. Everything I wrote in those long years of child rearing and “normality” was binned as soon as it was finished. So, did I know I was a writer before I was a writer? Complicated.

    I think my soul knew but my mind was convinced it was impossible for such an ordinary person to be such a thing! Hope that all makes sense and doesn’t sound too dramatic!

    • Hi Sharon –
      I know exactly what you mean. Even as a child I was, as you say, totally absorbed in writing my stories, but never once thinking that meant I was a writer. It just meant I enjoyed it! Writing is expected of children to begin with. Not necessarily creative writing, but plain old writing. It’s not always taught with a special meaning, as if we could turn it into a career. Sometimes it’s difficult to turn something we have to learn anyway into something we truly want to do throughout life.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. This is so beautifully written Kate! You have such a way with words, you really do.

    So much of this rings true with me, great post!

  4. I was a reader first and a writer second. My mentors were the classic writers — Stevenson, Verne, Dickens and people like that. Then school ended up further developing my ability as a writer. I am fortunate beyond belief that I can earn my living that way — I still get a kick out of seeing my words in print or online.

    • Hi Eagle-Eyed,

      I like how you define yourself. So many people start off that way–after having read wonderful books, it’s no wonder we might want to try our hand at writing. Writers who can earn their living as writers are indeed fortunate. Good on you!

  5. I found myself in the library at age eight and said, “Wow.” In those days Silence was the key in libraries. I turned to hear the Librarian laughing out loud. Then I started writing little stories. I never thought anything of it. Not then and not for a l.o.n.g. time.
    Wonderful post. 😀

  6. I was always a writer, but I never thought I’d do it for a living. My father pointed out an ad for a reporter at the local paper when I was 22 – I did that for 5 years. I didn’t realize I needed writing to be happy until I left and tried to be a secretary. Now I’ve found my way back again and couldn’t be happier.

    • You owe your dad a big piece of cake for pointing you in the right direction! 🙂 It’s wonderful when we have someone in our court looking out for us, knowing how much we enjoy writing, and showing us our options. Yeah, I think I’d rather be a reporter over a secretary any day of the week!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. I like reading writers’ writing journeys. There are so many similarities. My current challenge is that the rational side of my brain continues to trump the creative side. Your post inspires me to believing in the many possibilities writing has to offer.

    • Hi Kate,
      Mmm, yes, the rational side of my brain is usually browbeating the creative side, too. Although I am getting better at supporting the underdog 😉 and making sure I keep up with my writing and getting it out there.

      I’m glad you found the post inspiring. I think writing is a treasure trove of possibilities.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  8. Great post Kate, but I was surprised to see that first sentence, don’t you consider yourself a success? I certainly do, on the outside looking in. You went and got degree at a good school, you’ve even got your own website for editing, proofreading and coaching other writers. I really wish I had any of those qualifications, I might feel better about my own writing. You’ve been published yourself and I’ve read that story folks, all Limebirds and visitors should too (seriously good). http://4amwriter.com/treasures/

    When I compare myself to Stephen King, I’m no success, but when I compare myself to the less experienced, more impatient and less realistic self that I have been in the past, I’m doing better than I have a right to be. 🙂

    • Hi Neeks,

      Mmm, you have a point I suppose, lol. I guess because I’m still striving to reach my ultimate goal, that I don’t consider myself a total success. However, to be fair, I have been successful along the way toward my goal. It’s all about baby steps, and I shouldn’t discount any of them. Thanks for the shout-out, Ms. Neeks. 🙂

      I guess it’s all relative, isn’t it. I’d say if we’re blogging and putting our writing out there for others to read, then we are more successful than we were when we didn’t do it at all. So, we just need to keep taking those baby steps.

      Where’s my pacifier???

  9. I think a lot of writers–maybe even the majority–were other things long before they were technically writers. But brewing inside them was likely always a writer. Some may have toyed with the craft and actually written out their works; while others created stories in their heads but didn’t pen them to paper. I’ve created stories in my head since I was a little girl. I just assumed everyone did. I figured it was about time I started documenting them. 🙂

  10. “rip-roaring drunk on words” indeed! Dang, I love the way you said that.

    Had no idea I was a writer, still hardly consider myself one. It was a happy accident, a long time coming according to the stack of journals I still have today, the encouragement from my English teachers, and an obsession with stories, whether they spawned from books, movies, or life.

    I’m glad I stumbled…from being so rip-roaring drunk on words.

    • Hi Britt,

      Thank you! It’s exactly how it is for me. Sometimes I don’t hear my own kids if I’m deep enough into my work. I’m glad you had encouragement from English teachers–I don’t know if that happens enough. Or if it does, no one follows up on it. I think it takes a lot of courage to consider oneself a writer, because in most cases, we still have to prove it.

      I’m glad you stumbled too. 🙂

  11. I was a late bloomer. I started writing D&D character backgrounds for friends and finally decided to try and ‘write’ more substantial. I’m not sure I was always a writer or even a reader. But, I have worked my way into it and the passion took off.

    • Hi Dennis,

      Late bloomers still count, and I find late bloomers to be intriguing. It’s so different from my own experiences. It’s nice to know that the writing bug can strike all ages, all stages of life. Welcome to the epidemic. 🙂

  12. Dead on. Actually, I have tried several times to NOT be a writer. Let’s face it, this is a hard business that probably doesn’t give a flying fig about your writing. It’s such a long shot to be really successful but we, as writers, don’t have a choice but to TAKE that shot. Being a musician is difficult, but you can listen to a song and determine if it is good in 2-3 minutes. You can’t read my 72,000 word novel in that amount of time. It’s such a heavily saturated market too. Everyone thinks they can write well. How many people have replied to your answer of “I’m a writer” with, “I’ve been thinking of writing a book!” like it’s just THAT easy.
    Have some peace knowing that you are one of many just like you. We’re all in this shit show together. I use this hashtag on Twitter for a reason. ❤ #writingfamily (@nmcastro114)

    • Hi Nicole,

      Great point. I always have to keep my smile in check when someone says to me, “I’ve been thinking of writing a book!” If people only knew! I also know what you mean about trying to skirt around being a writer, because who really wants to be rejected hundreds of times?? A lucky few get it within a couple of shots, but the reality is most of us have to hang out in the trenches a looong time.

      Thanks for sharing your Twitter info!!

  13. Did I know I was a writer before I became a writer? I don’t think so. I knew I was a storyteller from the moment I could talk. I found myself planning my words so that they would come out in the best possible way…to get the response I wanted. I thought everyone did this. It turns out no. Most people just say whatever comes to mind. I also knew I was a reader before I knew I was a writer. Reading was and is mind altering, but I found I would get frustrated with some stories. I would change them to suit my taste first in my mind and sometimes on paper. Writing my own stories came much later.

    • Hi Leanne,

      I love how you describe your process. I think writers tend to be conscious of words and how we use them–I remember talking in “novel speech” when I was younger, my way of testing out the thoughts in my head.

      I did the same thing that you describe with stories that were unsatisfactory, especially if it was a sad ending. I’d change it around in my mind to make me feel better.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  14. Well, Carrie has really summed up what I was thinking of saying. 🙂 I was one who always had stories in my head, too, even as a child. And some of them were complex enough to be full-length books. But no one ever said I should be a writer when I was growing up. But then in 2009, a story appeared that demanded to be set down. Maybe my Muse was slow to mature or didn’t feel I was ready until then. But now? Writing’s a regular part of my life, no matter if I’m every published or not. And I’m glad of it!

    • Hey JM,

      I wonder if the same holds true for kids who express a desire or an interest in vet medicine or teaching or environmentalism. Sometimes I think kids who write in their spare time aren’t taken seriously, as though they’re going through a phase, like playing tag or hide and seek. Perhaps grownups who overlook the writing think that kids are supposed to write or tell stories — that’s normal and not necessarily an indication that we could/should turn it into a career.

      I’m glad you listened to your muse in 2009, or else we’d never have met! 🙂

  15. You really get to the root of it, Kate. Thanks for sharing that process. I’m sure a lot of readers come at it the same way.

    • Thanks, Jack. I do wish I had come to my awareness sooner, but I console myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason.

  16. I remember as a little kid making up stories with dolls or other toys, but that wasn’t enough. After playing I always wanted to put the story down on paper. My dad used to bring me piles of scrap paper home from his work. 🙂

    • And your dad, either wittingly or unwittingly, chartered you on the course of writing, by doing such a simple but powerful thing. He noticed and supported your joy of writing. You can’t ask for more than that.

  17. I love this post. It’s so true to me too. I always treated writing as a hobby–a side activity when I had the time, yet now that I’ve given myself over to it, I LOVE it and wish the same things you do–that I’d started earlier and had a mentor so that I didn’t have to learn everything so slow now.

    • It’s so frustrating to take everything in at this late stage. Even though I have “dabbled” in writing most of my life, I didn’t know enough about storybuilding, and I think they are two separate entities. Now, I’m working double-time to make up for lost time. I’m glad that you found out how much you LOVE writing, too. 🙂

  18. Awesome post. I appreciate reading thoughts that used to be embedded in my own skull.

    I always look at art students I teach and mentor, and yearn for an imaginary youth where I was lucky enough to have believed in my abilities earlier. If I only… insert innumerable list of dot dot dots here.

    But then like cheese, omg, I can’t believe I am using this metaphor, good things take time. Urgh!

    I feel like critical mass makes for empowered creative vision. It’s all the years of finding that makes great creative vision manifest… we need those vagrant years to fill our lives with stories to tell.

    I am glad you are telling your story now.

    • They say that younger people (kids mainly) are resilient, and I often think about kids and writing and how tough it is to put it out there for others to read. If we challenge ourselves at a younger age, do we stand a better chance at working to make our dreams come true? Or is it the opposite — where an adult who regrets so much wasted time is more determined to make a dream come true? I think both happen, and whichever end we find ourselves at, we simply need to believe in ourselves and work hard to attain the things we want.

      I still like the metaphor. Mainly because I love cheese.

      Thanks so much for swinging by!

  19. I am a writer. Hear that? I am a writer!

    For many years that would not have applied to me. Britt’s comment about encouragement from English teachers is very true, discouragement by teachers is also, unfortunately, true. (Here’s a post about my experience with a negative teacher http://dmlbooks.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/screw-you ) And so, for many years, I was not a writer.

    I started writing regularly when poetry grabbed me (amazing what love can do isn’t it) but, then, I was just one of thousands of posters on a poetry site (although I did get very good feedback, I was still only a dabbler).

    Over the years I had a recurring dream about trying to run across a road with the cars aiming for us as we ran. I often said “that would make a great story” but I never did anything about it. Eventually, with some praise for my poetry under my belt, I sat down and wrote the story “Road Runner” which made it into my collection that came out last year.

    I have now self-published four books (although, to any agents out there – I’m available 😉 ) and, on my website, I describe myself as “poet and writer of science fiction short stories and novels” – and I believe it!

    So I would say to any prospective writers out there, believe it! You can be a writer if you want; and to any writers out there, don’t forget to encourage those around you that may need a bit of a push to feel that they can do it.

    • You are a prime example of taking the bull by the horns! Good on you, Dennis. I think it’s extremely difficult to overcome negative feedback and comments and insults. The surface us know that it’s ridiculous, but deep down we wonder if any of that crap is true. Writers (artists in general) are sensitive because we’re putting our deepest selves on the line.

      I have heard that dreams are a great source for writing; however, I rarely remember my dreams so I have not been able to put that theory to the test.

      We absolutely need to support each other and to encourage when needed. And if we see someone who loves to write, but is too shy to express their love, we need to show them the world of writing. Give a writer a fighting chance.

      Thanks for a great comment, Dennis.

  20. Great post, Kate. I always knew there was something else I was supposed to do without really knowing what it was and it is nice to know that I’m not alone!

    I agree with the mentor comment and in a way our writing blogs are there to help others who are just beginning to realise they have the calling too 🙂

    • Hi Pete,

      Safe to say you’re not alone in any aspect of the writing biz. It just seems that way because we’re such cave-dwellers.

      I wholeheartedly agree with the need for a mentor and the positive benefit of a blog. Even now as I write the words, I remember how crazy I thought blogging was–then I tried it. Haven’t regretted it one minute.

  21. I love what you say here, Kate: that writing/storybuilding has always been a part of you, so it was late when it became a tangible “goal.”

    Personally, I don’t know if I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, though. A writer can be as much a profession as a personal calling, I think. Some writers work hard at that craft of building worlds and characters to the point where they’re bestsellers. Some writers are content to stay huddled in their hobby-holes, scribbling and typing away on one story after another, dropping pages into an ever-filling drawer. I don’t know what makes a “real” writer, anymore. I guess, like anything, people have their own level of passion.

    • Great point, Mayumi. There are different levels of passion in regard to writing, and what satisfies one writer might not be satisfactory to another writer. There are lots of writers out there who have no desire to be published, but they love spinning stories, and they are willing to keep learning. The fact they want to make sure their work is quality but have no plans to publish is the mark of a true writer indeed.

      My friend, Neeks, said I was a little harsh on myself because in the post I said I wasn’t successful. She highlighted important events in my life, and she’s right — I have come a long way. I tend to sell myself short because I haven’t reached my ultimate goal. But I have to remember that I’m enjoying the journey and that I continue to learn and improve my craft. That’s just as important as getting the big break.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  22. Oh, Kate, how well you’ve articulated what has been in the back of my mind for years. I became an engineer because I had no one who would support my choice to do something as silly as writing. How will you get a job? How will you earn a living? Why don’t you become a nurse, a doctor, an engineer??? And besides, I was so good at math, why would I want to do anything else? Why was I so timid in the pursuit of my desire? I didn’t get my MFA until I was 43. And I gave birth the semester I finished my thesis. Fast forward 10 years. I am now “getting serious” about sending out my work as AARP brochures arrive in my mailbox. I rip them apart and keep writing.

    • Jilanne, that’s a story unto itself. I love it! I don’t understand why people insist on steering would-be writers away from their joy. No, not all writers can make a living from writing. But, not all writers want to do that anyway. I’m glad you came back to your true path, Jilanne.

  23. All these comments fill me with glee, what a great discussion! 🙂

  24. Such a good post Kate! I wish I had time to read all the comments, but I don’t right now! I don’t think I had a definitive moment, but it’s been with me a long time. I’ve only ever dabbled though, never properly committed. Well, writing my blog regularly is the most committment I’ve ever given to writing! I wish I could find my writing niche really.

  25. I always liked to write but I didn’t think to try to make a career of it until I’d already had a successful career in something else. And realized something was missing. The passion. The drive. The love of my work. I was always a writer, but I didn’t want to be an author until I was much wiser. 😉

    • Nice distinction between being a writer and an author. There are plenty of writers who don’t venture into the publishing realm. They simply want to craft a story, and they don’t care if anyone else ever reads their work. I think being a writer is where that passion, drive that you talk about comes into play.

  26. I always knew I loved to create stories. Even as a young kid. My first two novels were purely for pleasure… to tell a tale. They were only read my a handful of my closest friends, but the feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming. I write mostly for myself, and it anyone else likes what I’ve done, it’s icing on the cake.

    Yeah, I’m a writer, and I realized it the moment I sat down at a typewriter and typed “The End”

    • I did the same thing – wrote purely for pleasure – for the longest time. I still do. Even though I aim to be published, I still write stories that are only for me.

      I think you’re smart that you write for yourself first – too many writers put too much importance on what everyone else thinks. While I can understand it from a business perspective, writing is too subjective a topic to enable us to please everyone.

      • Yes, it’s VERY subjective. Sometimes that’s hard to get over. After some self-training, I’ve learned to write for the market, and still write for myself. I just have to reign myself in, and stick inside one genre per work. I’m still finding it satisfying personally, and the pub credits make me smile professionally. 🙂

  27. I especially love those last few lines. It’s true that with writing especially, people will encourage you to study something else because you can always keep writing on the side. So my something else to study was journalism. 🙂 But then when I started reporting, I still wanted to write creatively and that’s not always such a great combination. Reporting made me feel like I was a writing factory. I didn’t go back to writing for fun for a long time after that. Like you, I wonder what might have happened if I had treated creative writing as a career all along. I’m still not even really treating it that way, but that circuitous route has helped me find the love of writing again – so in a way that path was just a really big circle.

    • Journalism would be tough to enjoy if your true love is creative writing. I’m sure there are plenty of publications that allow reporters to put some creative spin to the articles, but still, it’s not the same.

      I’m glad at least that you found your way back to creative writing. Even though it might have taken you a long time to reach this point, you probably appreciate the journey that much more.

  28. Kate, I think you’ve hit on something here… the whole thing about not having it mapped out. It probably is what many writers have in common – and also what then fuels our stories. I’m not sure there was a defining moment for me, either. It’s something I wanted to do for as long as I can remember…but I made the mistake of forgetting about it in a well of despair for some years. Thankfully, I found someone who reminded me. Main thing is, now we are on the path 🙂

  29. I love this, because I think about this very thing all the time. I traced my love of words all the way back to a Websters dictionary my mother let me play with back when I was a drooling tot. The words stuck. The love followed. The ability to build a story from nothing to something, I still don’t get how it happens. It’s a Cosmos thing, I’m just along for the ride.

    • Hey Cayman,
      Dictionaries have a way of sucking us in. Seriously. All of those words in one big book. I feel that way about libraries. Whenever I walk into one I get all excited at how many books there are in one place. If I’m ever rich enough to own a huge mansion, I’m going to have a darn library, I’m telling you!

      • I know, right? A library would be at the top of my must have list as well. And I would make certain that my dining room was dressed in books. I love being surrounded by books. Very peaceful.

  30. I haven’t the slightest idea how I got here.
    Terry

  31. I consider being a writer to having a birth defect that can be cured slowly if it isn’t cultivated and encouraged. I look for the signs in my kids – and I see it, and I love it. I know that the time I’ve spent away from writing has been the most excruciating, painful, soul-killing seven minutes of my life.

    • Totally agree. My daughter is a lover of words, also. She’ll pull sentences out of the air, write them down, tease them out, and get all giddy because she sees stories growing from them. I know that feeling.

      Yes, even 7 minutes away from writing can be a killer. Glad you made it through.

  32. Kate, I think you don’t anymore, so I’m going to say I’m glad you don’t dwell on what-ifs anymore. That way leads down the path of madness, and not the fun madness of writing.

    I knew I was a writer … well always. I haven’t always nurtured the feeling. I’ve tried to find other paths, but this is where I come when I go home inside. Writing is home, and I can carry it with me.

    • There are those misty days, Amber, when I do dwell on the what-ifs. That’s just part of my nature–the upside to it is that I’m reminded to get my arse in the chair and back to writing so that I’ll fulfill my dream.

      I love your last line. So perfect.

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