“A Real Writer”

I was six when I began writing for real. “Real” is a loose term–I’m talking stories written in pencil first grader handwriting on lined paper with crude crayon illustrations as accompaniment. I still have them at my parents’ house, a stack of stapled tomes tied together with yarn at the bottom of a trunk in my old bedroom. I would write stories about princesses and best friends and all the things I wanted to be when I grew up.

I’ve always had a fascination with reading, with story-telling, with the ability of people I’ve never met who can string words together in such a way that takes me to places I’ve never been, makes characters that don’t exist in the real world come to life. Besides being a ballerina and a professional hurdle-jumper, being a writer was my first dream.

It was a dream I never pursued, not really, until now. I’ve always kept journals. I’ve had a blog for several years now. I still write stories, mostly accounts of people I’ve met and places I’ve been, but I never share them. My mom has always told me that she once heard that “people keep journals because they secretly hope that one day, someone will read them.” I disagree whole-heartedly with that statement.

I’d be OK with my journals crumbling to dust and no one ever reading the contents within. I write because that is how I process. I write because it is therapeutic to sling words across a page. A tangible page, one I can turn. One that gives paper cuts. This is why, even with the advent of blogging, I still keep a physical journal. There is just something about it.

I write, a lot. Blogging, journaling, texts in story form to my best friend, 140-character updates throughout my day, letters to people dear to my heart in places that are far away. I send cards. I like snail mail. But I never really considered myself a writer.

Until about a month ago. I was going to write a story for an issue of the campus magazine, while also designing a spread, photographing a story, on top of my responsibilities as the photo editor. Someone, out of concern for my sanity I’m sure, asked if I would rather have “an actual writer” write it.

And I bristled. An actual writer? Am I not an actual writer? What, exactly, constitutes an actual writer? After the initial sting, I realized two things: that the comment was not meant as a jab, and that no one even knows I write because I hide it from 98% of people in my life. Maybe hide isn’t the right word. I don’t advertise it. I don’t talk about it. I certainly don’t share the things I write.

I’m afraid.

It’s much like photography, why it’s SO hard when people aren’t thrilled to death with the photos I take. I put so much heart and soul into the photos I create that it feels like a personal attack on all that I am when someone dislikes them. But that feeling is NOTHING compared to my writing. It’s why everytime I write a blog post on my person blog, I save it as a draft for awhile first. I always reconsider hitting the “publish” button. Because once I do, it’s out there. In the great unknown oblivion, free for anyone to rip it apart. It’s terrifying.

Going to the Invictus meetings (all two that I’ve attended) are intimidating. I sit in a room full of writers. People who have taken classes, who have published work, who have had people read and critique their writing. I am not part of that group. I won an essay contest in 5th grade about what freedom means to me. The list of my writing accomplishments ends there. Everything about this project that I naively jumped into scares me. Yet, here I am.

And the thing I’m realizing is that it doesn’t take classes, formal training, published work or a long list of writing awards to truly be “a writer”. It’s much like photography, I think, what makes a writer is the ability to make someone feel something through words. Through the arrangement of letterforms on a page, you can make stories, emotions, people come to life. That is what makes a writer.

I am a writer, my friends. Not the best that ever came along, and hopefully not the worst. I am hesitant to share and afraid that no one will care about this story I am writing. But I am not writing for them. I am writing it for me. I am writing it because I think it matters. And right now, that is enough.