Becoming A Writer

It has taken two years for me to finally get to the point: that this is a writer’s blog. I’ve been using this space like a journal, meaning that it has only been interesting to me. So what’s the difference now?

I’ve been telling myself that I’m a writer for years. I found that I had to do that: tell myself over and over that I do qualify. And how do I know that? It’s not as if I have very much published–and when I first starting announcing my “writerhood” I hadn’t published anything. Part of my motivation was psychological. I figured if I called myself a writer long enough, I might actually come to believe that I am. It worked, to a degree. But there is no such thing as suddenly becoming anything, from one’s work identity to one’s gender. (Seriously. Think about it. Have you always known exactly what it means for you to be the sex you are, let alone how to act like it?) And the worst (or best) part is that the process is never complete. I suspect I’ll be talking myself into believing that I’m a writer–among other things– until the day I die.

Two things have made the process speed up for me in the past two years. One has been going back to school and the other has been taking writing courses (I’m now on my second one.) Just being in school means that you’re going to be writing, and the better your writing, the better your grade (assuming that you know what you’re writing about). I’ve had to sweat buckets trying to improve especially the clarity of my writing. Philosophical musings (otherwise know as bullsh**ing) don’t impress teachers who just want to see that you’ve “mastered” the information. Damn!

Ironically enough, choosing history as a major may well have caused my writing to improve more than English/Creative Writing would have. It can be much harder to write about history in an interesting way than to write about many other fields in the humanities. At least I’ve found that to be the case. But having to do so has sharpened my writing ability and that has carried over into my creative writing (I hope).

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t take a writing class until after I’d improved my writing of history. Yet I can see now that I needed to take a writing class at some point to learn something else about myself: that other writers think I’m a writer. They may be a writer’s harshest critics, but it’s good to know that their standards are the same ones you want to meet and that you feel you must meet in order to feel like a real writer.

It could be that the writing course, besides teaching me more about how to write, has also served as a way to encourage me. A’s and B’s in history don’t necessarily tell me that I am a Writer. Sometimes my good writing isn’t even recognized (although I admit that it was a thrill to have one teacher tell me that my writing was “clear, concise and almost lyrical”). But there’s something special about another writer telling you that your work is good. And I have a feeling that I will never stop needing that kind of encouragement.

I have never sought it out before. I’ve never joined a writing group (online or in “real” life) and it has only been in the past year that I’ve exposed myself to other writers’ scrutiny. Since I figure that they would be hardest on my writing than anyone else (which is probably the main reason I never subjected myself to the experience before), it means all that much more when they praise it. It doesn’t even have to be effusive praise!

The bottom line is, however, that the only fool-proof way to become a writer is to write. A lot. Which is why I’m here right now, spilling my thoughts (guts?) on the Internet. I doubt that anyone else will ever read them, but it does me a lot of good to write as if I think someone will. After all, you never know…