If I'm honest, I've always known I was a writer. I was writing picture books from the time I could hold a crayon. I won a state-wide poetry contest in second grade (which was the last time I wrote a poem worth reading!) and I filled notebooks with short stories and (terrible) poetry right up through high school. Friends pestered me for the next installment in my mini novels. Teachers read my short stories and encouraged me to pursue a career as a writer. I read voraciously and I daydreamed about one day being a published author myself.
Then I went off to college and for a lot of reasons I just stopped writing fiction. And the longer I went without writing, the less like myself I felt. But at the same time, the more time that passed, the more intimidated I started to feel by the prospect of writing again. I think deep down, I was afraid that I might have somehow lost my talent for writing, and if that was true I just did not want to know it. If I never wrote, I never had to officially know that I could not, in fact, make it as a writer. So much of my personal identity was tied up in seeing myself as a writer. For years I told people that I was an insurance claims adjuster, a nanny, an SAT tutor... but in my mind, those were just jobs I held to pay my bills. In my heart I was a writer. But I was a writer who didn't write. A lot of authors will tell you that this is something which doesn't exist. They will tell you that a writer writes, period. That there is no such thing as a writer who isn't writing.
And I get what they're saying, sort of. But...
I still call bullshit. Writers stop writing for all kinds of reasons. They come to writing late in life. They try other hats on for size before they realize that writing is what they are meant to do. I am a writer because I found my way back to writing. I am a writer because I found it in myself to push past my fear and uncertainty and just start putting words on the page again. I don't think less of myself because there were years when I wasn't in a place yet where I could do that. I think more of myself for clawing my way back to this thing that I love, and for loving it even more after so much time away.
This past fall, I decided to stop thinking about writing a novel and actually write one. In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and while I didn't "win", (complete my novel in one month), I did come the closest I've ever been to a complete first draft. Equally valuable, I had also spent a month cultivating some writing discipline. Nearly every day in November I sat down with my laptop and added words to my story, and it felt amazing. I felt creative and focused and like my old self again for the first time in years.
When November ended, I had 45,290 words written. Coming off the NaNoWriMo high, I hit an awful slump where I immediately decided that every word I had written thus far was utter garbage and that far from being close to a first draft, in fact I would soon need to scrap almost everything I had written and start fresh. The self doubt was crushing and I cringed when people in my life asked me how my novel was going.
Fortunately, rather than rashly deleting most of what I had written, instead I set the manuscript aside and decided to look at it again in a few weeks with fresh eyes. I reread my work in progress tonight and miracle of miracles, I no longer hate it. In fact, I even like it again. I even feel like it's kind of great, in a rough, first draft kind of way.
If I continue with the plan I have in mind for my story, I estimate that I'm about two thirds of the way through my first draft. Right now I feel like the most important thing for me is to get back into the habit of writing every day again. With that in mind, I'm setting a modest goal for myself of writing 500 words per day. If I feel about two thirds complete at 46,000 words, that puts me 100% complete at 69,000 words. At a rate of 500 words per day, in theory I could have a completed first draft 46 days from now.
FORTY. SIX. DAYS.
Which is amazing and wonderful and the hugest of milestones. I will be beyond ecstatic if 46 days from now I'm printing off a first draft and starting revisions.
But you know what? I'm a writer right now.