At what point do you become a writer? Is it when you first put pencil to paper or hands to keys and write a story? Or does your writing have to be published somewhere that people, and especially your friends and family, can tangibly see and touch it? Or is it when you start getting paid for the words you write? It’s something every writer ponders, and it’s been written about by nearly all of them.
Most recently, I’ve read this piece about it, and agree with just about all of it. When can you comfortably call yourself a writer out loud and not cringe at the word? The closeted writer is a person I can totally relate to; however, for too many years, I wasn’t even writing surreptitiously–I simply wasn’t writing.
Looking back, I see that I simply let the winds of life blow me in directions not of my choosing, while I, typically not the acquiescent type, simply went along. At the time, I distinctly remember making choices. I thought I was in control. The vantage of hindsight makes me question my naiveté.
What does an English major plan to do with their life, after all? I had no doubt that publishing was the place I belonged. But right from the start, I let money alter my course ever so slightly and that, to quote Frost, made all the difference. The starting salary of $21.5K offered by John Wiley & Sons was a no-brainer over the $13-16K being offered by great presses like Penguin Books, even though I wanted to go into fiction. Instead, I ended up in chemical encyclopedias, which onomatopoeiatically sounds as fun as it was. It wouldn’t be the last time I sold a piece of my soul for a few more dollars on my paycheck.
Years passed and, after a few jaunts in the non-profit sector and a stint at a broadcast news company, I thought I’d take back control of my life and start over again, the right way. At that point, I still wasn’t writing. But I landed a position in editing at a consulting company and started really learning the trade under the tutelage of the company’s editor. Best of all, I’d be writing again–sure, it wasn’t exactly creative writing, but it was a chance to take my talent out of the drawer and polish it up again so it sparkled just a little. The sparkle caught attention, all right, but not in the way I intended. Soon, I was promoted to the position of analyst and pushed, rather unceremoniously, in front of a client to give a presentation on my second day of the job. It was either sink or swim, and I swam my little heart out.
And I was writing, oh I was writing. But the unimaginative words of analysts telling companies what they need to hear–advisories, White Papers, SWOT analysis–is nothing like the evocative, surprising, thoughtful words I longed to write. Where words have power, my words were being used to justify positions and bottom lines, not to surprise and delight and give the world a depth that the reader had never even imagined. The words I was paid to write and the words I no longer wrote were now long-lost cousins, narrowly related, separated by an increasingly wide chasm. It didn’t dawn on me that it was up to me, and me alone, to not only build the bridge between them, but also walk across it and coax the one to meet the other.
Walking away from a good paycheck takes courage. Courage that I didn’t end up needing, because I was unceremoniously pushed out after my first child was born. Even then, while a tiny part of me seethed at the disloyalty, a larger part rejoiced. Truthfully, I rarely look back. Instead, I’ve painstakingly built myself back up to recover the person I was decades ago, strengthened by the many lessons I’ve learned along the way. In a way, I suppose, life is all about becoming different, and hopefully better, versions of ourselves as we grow. At this point, I’m likely looking at Rachel 4.0. And though she’s far from perfect, she’s pretty damn good.
While I’ve built a freelance editing and writing business over the last decade, with some years more lucrative than others, these last two years have been the most important to me as a writer. I’ve both reclaimed my voice and my desire to write, starting first with a 50K-word stab at a novel that I’m not yet ready to revisit, and this blog. I’ve stretched my creative muscles with some rough pieces of flash fiction and poetry. I’ve knocked down the damn closet door, and pulled my words out from every drawer, and they are now strewn throughout the world.
My words, MY words, so often the most private part of me, have gone places I never even imagined. Pieces of my soul now journey forth without me, to places I’ll never know, perhaps touching somebody I’ll never meet.
Truly, what more could a writer want?