It’s been three months now since I committed to making writing a priority.
I’m not very far along in the overall scheme of things, but I will say this process has already challenged me something fierce in a multitude of ways while coaxing out some major realizations about my identity as a writer.
Growing up, my mom was an avid reader. She regularly walked us the short distance to our small town’s public library, where my sister and I spent what felt like hours poking through the titles of the children’s section. We always came home hauling a plastic bag each stuffed with books, excitedly deciding which one we’d read first.
I have no doubt it was Mom’s passion for storytelling and language that spawned by own love of writing and expression.
I remember spending hours as a kid perched in front of her electronic Smith Corona word processor, churning out story after story with uninhibited enthusiasm.
I remember the joy of receiving my very first diary at 11 years old. It was navy and compact, with a latch on the front and the image of a brown-haired girl with her back against a tree, bent over and writing in her diary. It remains tucked in a storage bin inside my crawlspace, spared the fate of the teenage journals I shredded only a year or so ago.
Despite journalling steadily through childhood and into adolescence, it took me until the age of 16 or 17 before I realized I might want to be a writer.
The latter years of high school were a constant barrage of teachers, parents and counsellors demanding what I planned to do after graduation. Every one insisted the only surefire key to a stable and well-paying career was by pursuing a path in the sciences.
I resented the pressure but started twelfth grade with a course load stacked in Physics and Chemistry, Calculus and Biology. After only a few months, I started to sink.
The only class I ever looked forward to was English 12.
And my teacher saw that. In fact, he was the only adult at the time who recognized I was potentially headed in the wrong direction and endeavoured to help steer me back.
By the end of the school year I’d dropped Calculus and barely scraped by in Biology. My Physics grade was a disaster, but what I remember most is scoring an abysmal 35% on my Chemistry final and finding out how disappointed my instructor was that I’d dragged down his provincial average.
What I also remember is my English 12 teacher stopping me in the hall at the end of the year to tell me I’d earned 97% on my year-end exam — the highest score in the province, at the time.
He was so impressed by my mark, in fact, and aware of my indifference to the sciences, he wrote a letter to my parents describing my strengths and my interest in writing, and endorsing a pursuit of the humanities.
The fall after graduation I upgraded my high school credits with Literature 12 while meanwhile taking a couple introductory English courses at the local community college.
Twelve months later I started my undergrad as an English major and Media Studies minor, graduating in 2006 with honours.
My parents weren’t wrong about one thing: an Arts degree isn’t exactly the ticket to career success.
Finishing four years of post-secondary was a gratifying (if not costly) experience, but I certainly didn’t have a clear idea of what, exactly, my fancy piece of paper entitled me to at the end of it.
My sense of accomplishment swiftly evaporated after I spent months applying for entry-level positions with local newspapers, hoping someone (anyone) would see my journalistic potential (and also, what job exactly does an English major apply for, anyhow?).
I was eventually hired as a receptionist by a local driving school, and paid $11 an hour to answer phones and make fumbling small-talk with customers.
I followed a meandering path over the next five years entailing several admin-type jobs, each one a little better than the last, before securing myself a role in government communications. Finally — FINALLY — I was doing something related to the $30,000 or so dollars I’d paid to advance my education.
I’ll admit, it’s validating to actually have a job title containing the word “writer”, and to be paid an adult salary for using words well.
At the same time, there’s a big difference between what I write for work (prescribed, formulaic, designed to comply with specific standards and guidelines), and how I write for myself.
And though I spent many (many) years blogging on a personal level, wrote some pieces for a few local start-ups and continued to maintain a fairly consistent journalling practice, I never felt fully worthy of defining myself as a writer.
I made the decision to start writing again as the result of a kind of a-ha moment — the realization that since quitting blogging, I was missing the experience of writing: the alchemy of shaping words into meaning, the process of gleaning significance through reflection, the brave and vulnerable journey of using my voice.
Writing as a blogger was always relatively easy because I wrote exclusively about myself. I also never had any expectation of how frequently I should write. I wrote when I was inspired, which was sometimes five times a week, and more typically, a couple times a month.
I can’t say blogging ever really challenged me as a writer.
I realized that despite the fact writing has always been one of my skills and my foremost means of expression, the fact I’ve never fully applied myself to my writing (outside my day job, that is) meant I truly didn’t deserve to call myself a writer. At least not without something to show for it.
Therein lies the biggest challenge of this journey — having something to show for it.
It’s not that I don’t want to write.
Sometimes it’s all I want to do — the process of sculpting words into meaning. Sometimes I’m literally antsy with the need to express, the anticipation of getting it out there.
The biggest difficulty I’m having is coming up with ideas that inspire me enough to follow through.
I knew right from the start of this process that I’ll never rid myself of the habit of putting myself at the centre of my stories. Nor will I try, because that’s how I write. It’s how I use my voice.
What I’m no good at: drafting unoriginal listicles, opinionating on current events and blandly offering how-to advice.
My writing requires a lot of me. Even when my topics are broad, my writing remains deeply personal, and that means I spend a lot of time reflecting on the meaning and purpose of what I’m trying to say, and ensuring I’ve expressed myself as candidly and authentically as possible.
I can be especially good at oversharing. (It’s kind of my specialty.)
I’m constantly taken aback by how quickly some writers churn out content, publishing two or three or even five times a day, while I meanwhile toil for weeks on a topic, struggling to get it just right.
I’ve tried all the techniques to help me devise subjects to write about, from writing prompts to free-flow prose. I’ve read article after article instructing me how to produce content faster, more effectively, resolving to write every day and publishing whenever possible.
But, I can’t. I can’t produce at the pace of so many other writers celebrating success on this platform because my style of writing just won’t allow it.
It forces all kinds of doubts once more about whether I’m truly worthy of calling myself a writer, especially when some days (most days, in fact), it feels so hard.
Until I remember: this is what I wanted. To be challenged, to prove to myself I can do this.
And so, I persist.