As a child, I always thought being a writer meant being a novelist or fiction writer. You weren’t really a writer until you had published your first novel.
I’m not sure where this thought came from or how it got so deeply embedded into my childhood beliefs. It was strong enough to cause me to ignore and invalidate the writer in ME for many years.
I might write fiction. I have a few rough drafts under my belt. I have written short stories and poetry. I have treatments for six novels and ideas for about 14 more saved on my computer. I certainly wouldn’t rule out my ability to produce a decent novel at some point. But my writing self is an essayist…. an observer of life that is capable of pulling metaphors out of daily living in order to convey truth. That’s the core talent and my greatest joy.
When it comes to making a living as a writer, entire segments of the book world were lost to me for most of my teen years and early adulthood. Only in the last ten years have I become aware that “self-help” as a category is a misnomer. Non-fiction books, whether how-to related or not, are a viable medium for a writer such as myself to share my unique voice; my writing mind. In the last two years, I realize that I’ve been writing a book in my head that is probably classified in the self-help category. My first full-length non-fiction book will be on the practice and benefits of journaling.
I find I have a LOT to say to folks who journal casually and those who have not yet found this wonderful resource for life. My eye is caught by titles and book covers associated with the writing process and journaling to the point where I can no longer ignore my drive to share with others all that journaling has meant to me…and can mean to them.
I picked up the nickname “essayist of encouragement” about 20 years ago while attending a small group for Christian women writers. It surfaced again 6 years ago while writing essays for friends and coworkers going through difficult times. That’s what I do best…writing essays that focus on one aspect of life and leave you feeling that improvement is as easy as making the decision to be aware, or putting a complicated truth into a metaphor that is easy to understand.
Perhaps one day I will be able to publish several books since I have collected a fair amount of my own essays on coping with pain, being vulnerable as a writer, living in relationships of questionable value. I write these essays a lot, but have only begun to keep them in the last couple years. Now, I categorize them and copy them into different folders. If the day comes when I can sit down and write a coherent introduction for a book on coping with pain, for example, I will have a file full of material stretching back to 2005 and beyond, to work with.
I may yet write a novel. The plots and characters swim in my head along with all the vast chaos I call a brain. For now, I am content to understand where my talent lies, and plan my discipline practices around such writing.
What would I say to the child of 9 who felt you couldn’t be a writer unless you were making up stories all the time? I would tell her to keep her eyes open, observe and think, and write down all the words that have run through the filter of her mind. Keep them. Learn from them. Share them. You don’t have to write fiction to be an author. You don’t have to write books to be a writer. Just write and watch it grow.