I am a writer. I always have been, even if I haven’t always had the courage to call myself one.
The ultimate way to express myself
For me, writing is the ultimate way to express myself. Although I tend to be a good verbal communicator, there’s nothing in the world quite like words on a page. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved books.
It’s also one of the reasons I’m sitting here struggling to type out the same story I’ve told a thousand times. I seem to use more words than I need to!
A childhood dream
The best place to start is at the beginning. Like most kids, I had many ideas about what I wanted to do when I “grew up”. Perhaps unlike most kids, I never changed my mind. It wasn’t going to be a career that would be nice, but a calling I was put on this earth to fulfil. And thus it began!
I remember the moment in 5th grade where I knew. We had to write a story as an assignment. I was so proud that I was chosen to read mine to the principal. I believe my teacher was there too.
As I recall, they both complimented me, as teachers will do for kids, but the feeling that stuck with me was that words could mean so much. Words could create worlds that sometimes our voice can’t. Words can be special, and I happened to be kind of good at them.
My love of writing only grew from there. I began writing a book the next year in 6th grade, and I found friends who loved to write, too. I couldn’t count the number of stories we all wrote for each other.
My first novel
This continued into high school, even as our friend group fractured and gained newcomers. We wrote fanfiction, and I began a new novel. I hadn’t given up on the first, but it was time for something new.
I still have the fully handwritten manuscript of that novel I wrote in high school. That hot summer day I finished writing it as I was laying out in the shade in the front yard and wrote the famous words “The End”. I was all smiles. My friends loved it!
Now that I had finished writing a novel, the dream of becoming a writer was even more concrete in my mind.
As everyone else was figuring out their life, I was looking for good writing programs to attend. I excelled at school and was accepted to multiple programs. I was on my way.
So it might surprise you to know that I quit writing creatively my freshman year of college. That probably seems crazy for someone who had been focused on writing since grade school, right? It kind of was, honestly.
It was spring semester, and I was having a hard time adjusting to college life 6 hours away from home. Because I didn’t struggle in high school, I hadn’t built very good study habits.
I didn’t really have many friends the first year, except for one girl who lived in the dorm floor that introduced me to rum and coke, and how to make oatmeal from a coffee maker. I didn’t fit in with the big city party girls who went to frat row every weekend. It was hard to connect with classmates also since I was the youngest in many classes.
A class to be in
I joined a community service sorority, which was an amazing experience. Together with the friendly faces that helped me adjust, serving the community was wonderful. But it wasn’t the same as my lifelong friends from home who loved to read my stories. No one I knew liked writing. In fact, most people spent a lot of time disliking and avoiding it.
Which was why I was profoundly excited to be in my first creative writing course that spring. I hoped to find like-minded writers who loved words as much as I did. Much to my disappointment, I was once again the only freshman in a course with juniors and seniors. Most of them were taking the course because they thought it would be easy.
Still not deterred, I did the reading and the exercises with enthusiasm. I showed up and did my best to learn, even though the professor only assigned his own published writing as reading for the course. To this day, I distinctly remember thinking that his writing wasn’t that great and wondered why he never picked something else. Out of all the amazing writings we could have been reading, how selfish and pretentious it was, especially for students just embarking into higher-level creative writing. I just assumed that the writing was actually good in ways I couldn’t figure out.
The teacher that shattered my dream
So when it came time to turn in our first story for the course, a short 10 pages, you can imagine how excited and nervous I was to get feedback from a “real” writer. After all, this is what I wanted to dedicate my life to when I grew up. It felt a lot like this was a defining moment for me, this one story would make or break my future as a creative.
And I guess it kind of did.
I got the story back with a bunch of editing marks on it in red ink. No big deal, that’s easy to fix. What I wasn’t prepared for were those stark red words at the end, the only comment on the entire story.
It simply said “Not impressed.”
The wind was knocked out of my sails before I’d even left shore. How could I be a real writer for a living if the professor didn’t even like my work? He was published after all and knew a lot more about writing than I did. He should know talent, and apparently I lacked something I’d always thought of as my best skill.
As much as I’d like to say that the semester got better with more feedback, it didn’t. The rest was much less memorable. I spent most of the time trying to convince myself that my writing wasn’t that bad. It was hard to do considering I was getting a C- in my literature class and the other courses didn’t have any writing at all.
After that year, I transferred schools due to other unrelated reasons, and changed course.
My first semester as a transfer student.
My lit professor changed my perspective forever. She allowed us to dislike established authors and literature. It was during her class that fall I decided I would rather be like her than that other professor.
So I got my bachelor’s degree in English literature. As it turns out, I was good at writing! I was good at analyzing and researching and finding patterns. I was good at words, but maybe not creating my own. At least that was my running self-commentary.
And so it happened that I continued my love of literature by getting a Master’s degree in English.
My view of writing changed again when I started teaching freshman composition. I’d regained my writing confidence, at least in every other way besides creative writing. I was shocked by how many of my students felt the same way. How many had similar experiences where someone they trusted to be an authority had told them their writing wasn’t good enough.
I’m not exaggerating when I say probably 85% of my students didn’t like writing because they thought they weren’t good enough.
It made me sad. And angry. And determined to change that mindset.
So I researched student confidence, and I wrote about it. I practised building up my student’s confidence. Even when they tested my patience and questioned my skills, I responded by building them up. To this day I’ve never written the kind of careless comment I received in that creative writing course, and will not.
Many of my friends in grad school were doing creative writing master’s degrees. Somehow I managed to resist them all. I never took another creative writing course after that first one, although I sorely regret not being brave enough to in grad school.
Becoming a writer
I graduated with my master’s degree and went into an unrelated job in healthcare IT while teaching writing at night at the local community college. The diversity of students and adult learners was exciting. Once again, very few of them had confidence in their writing. I still didn’t really like my day job, but I didn’t see how else I could pay the bills. Suffice it to say that my childhood dream began to resurface.
You might be wondering where this is going. After all, I did say at the beginning that I’m a writer.
And I am.
In fact, I’m a professional writer now, and a writing coach. I work with professionals who are in jobs they don’t like to build creative confidence in their writing. There is a special place in my heart for writers who come to me with a fear of writing.
I work with them and help them break out of the mindset. Ultimately writing is a skill that can be learned and improved. With hard work and a dream on the horizon, they can do it. I teach them how to get the fulfilment of a strong creative life alongside their day job.
I love the work I do, and now more than ever. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. There was never any question of whether I was meant to be a writer. I just created an extremely long and unpleasant roadblock for myself when I let someone else’s opinion dictate what I could or could not do.
And I’m pleased to say that, after a 7-year hiatus, I am writing creatively again. I started my novel last spring, and I’m about 30,000 words in and going strong. It’s a good story. I have no doubts that with some additional drafting and editing it will be published with my name on the cover in the next few years.
The hero of your own story
I wanted to share my story not just because I’m proud of who I’ve become, but because I think it could be of value to others.
I’m not proud of the fact that one rather unimportant remark kept me from working on my dream for almost a decade. Truth be told, I don’t even remember that guy’s name! I’m not proud of the fact that I didn’t know how to process negative feedback, or that I didn’t ask how I could have improved rather than immediately shutting down. I’m definitely not proud of the fact that I somehow managed to convince myself that I wasn’t good enough for the dream I worked my whole life on.
But I am proud that I instinctively knew that no matter what, words were in my future. I am proud that my teaching focus has always been on building student confidence, which is something that hardly anyone talks about but everyone worries about. I am proud that after all this time, I was able to pick up my dream, dust it off, and put it back on the horizon where it belongs.
Not everyone gets that opportunity, especially writers. Certainly, not everyone has the incredible support I’ve had, and the encouragement, to pursue my dreams.
I know for a fact there are thousands of people out there who want to be writers and don’t think they can, and I don’t accept that. That’s why I do what I do, and that’s why I started my business. Why I continue to share my own story over and over again.
Every writer deserves a real, run-at-it-with-a-fiery-passion chance to be the hero of their own story.