Reclaiming My Creative Self
Or how I became a writer again
Editor's Note: This is the final essay from a celebrated writer in Next Avenue's Telling Our Stories series, which also featured Elizabeth Berg, David Mura and Mary Schmich. We received an overwhelming response to our call for 500-word essay submissions from readers, so thank you so much to those who participated. The 12 finalists have been notified and we'll begin featuring their essays on Next Avenue in November.
I used to be a writer.
Ask Harry Belafonte. When I accosted him in Jamaica years ago and he asked me what I did for a living, I told him I was a writer. To which he replied, “that’s a noble profession.”
There was a time when I had to write. And I see younger writers with that same fiery desire. They have to write. To make sense of the world. That was me.
Then something happened. Maybe it wasn’t a something. Maybe it was a that or a them or a those.
One thing that happened was at some point, I lost my self-confidence, which made me lose the desire. I questioned, after several books and 100+ articles and essays, was writing for me.
Then I let life tell me that writing wasn’t for me. Too hard to make a career out of it. Too hard to do. Remember how hard it was writing that last book? That wasn’t fun.
I felt like I didn't have anything worth saying.
Oh, and then I internalized the fear of folk around me. They didn’t think writing was a viable career. They couldn’t wrap their head around a career where they didn’t see me go to an office and sit for eight hours. Even though that’s exactly what writers do. The office just looks different.
They didn’t understand why I felt like I had to write. I didn’t have what they had…yet. That made them uncomfortable. And I tried to carry some of that burden for them. Then I thought I wanted what they had so I could feel more normal. That pursuit pushed me down a hole I’m still climbing out of.
Busyness, But No Forward Movement
So I started doing everything but write. Bored the creative s*** out of myself. And got so far away from myself. Not just my writer self. My creative self. My unique self. My fiery self. I missed her so much. It was like being jealous of someone you’re not. But you realize you are that person and it makes it all the more frustrating.
On top of being lost as hell, confusion set in. There was no authentic focus. Lots of busyness, but no forward movement. I got all in my head. Overthinking nonsense instead of putting pen to pad. I felt like I didn’t have anything worth saying.
Truth is, I didn’t really believe it myself, that I was a writer with real talent. Made up some s*** about not being a writer’s writer. WTF does that mean? Nothing. Just coward talk.
Even letting silly things slip out of my mouth like I didn’t have any more books in me, even though I knew that not to be true. Especially when I had more than 50 pages of typed notes for a book about my family that haunted me in the good way.
And aloud, I told no one in particular besides myself, this story needs to be written.
And folk believed it too, that I wasn’t a real writer. Folk who I thought mattered at least. Writer was not what they thought of when they thought of me.
One day, I re-read those notes from the book about my family. And I read it like I was a reader. Like it wasn’t my s***. Like it wasn’t my family’s story. And aloud, I told no one in particular besides myself, this story needs to be written. Then read. And watched on screen.
Now, I Write
While visiting my father in the hospital some time ago, he told me to put the word writer all over the house. I put up a big Post-it that reads: I am a f****** writer. Emphasis in any writing, including ridiculous reminders, is important.
I spent close to two years trying to reclaim the title. Talk about hard. Admittedly, my attempts were somewhat half-assed. I was dabbling like it is a hobby for me.
Now, I am no longer trying to reclaim the title.
Now, I write. Because that’s what writers do. And I’m reading. And thinking. And dreaming. And creating. And producing. And sharing.
Miraculously, that creative being I was is re-emerging slowly, surely, with a new life lens and some stories to tell and some s*** to say.