Me, a Writer?
One of the most important philosophies my high school tries to instill in students is that they need to leave their educational journeys prepared. Students need to have some sort of qualifications or experiences that allow them to proceed into the next facet of their life after high school, wherever they may go. Vocational or trade schools, universities, careers--it really doesn’t matter. After graduation day, students need to be ready and able to dip their toe into whichever field that they choose in order to have the most likelihood of success.
There is, however, one field in which you need little preparation. No fancy degrees, shining certificates, or glowing recommendation letters are required. At the core of this field, you only need two items, easily found at your local Walmart:
A pencil and paper.
Writing is one the most accessible ways for a person to impact the world. Impassioned letters, blogs, and articles can change society more easily (and cheaply) than any other form of influence. Take, for instance, the recent boom in social media. While a good portion of social media’s success is its incorporation of pictures and videos into its content, the main grit of their appeal is writing. People want to read what other people have to say. Sure, a picture can be funny on its own and a powerful political photograph can cause shockwaves, but the hilarious caption or riveting article attached to said pictures are what truly drive our incessant need to keep liking, retweeting, or scrolling.
And yet, we approach writing with fear. Much like the common adage that many people ‘hate math,’ even more people seem to claim that they ‘can’t write.’ If I were to stand at the front of my classroom, encountering about 100 ninth grade students throughout the day, and instruct them to, “Raise your hand if you consider yourself a writer” I imagine I would get only a handful of hands waving dutifully in the air. Frankly, I wish the school year were in session (darn the freedoms of summer!) so that I could try this thought experiment just to give you actual numbers on how many hands would go up. But, trust me, as a teacher and a person fairly good at guessing how 14 year olds will react, my students would not be quick to call themselves writers.
This is unfortunate, because they most definitely are writers. As are you, and the person sitting next to you and your mom and your uncle and even your arch nemesis Bill (man, Bill is the absolute worst). If you are able to put a pencil to paper, fingertips to keyboard, or stylus to stone tablet you have uncovered the not-so-secret mystery of being a writer. Take a moment. Breathe it in. You are a writer. No one can ever take that away from you. Even at your lowest moment in life, if for some reason writing utensils and paper were unavailable, you’d probably be able to grow out your nails long enough to scratch some words into your surroundings.
There is some sort of taboo against one calling themselves a writer, despite the fact that they probably are. It doesn’t take six New York Times Bestsellers and four movie deals to make you into a writer. It doesn’t even take published work. All writing requires is that you sit down and write. It’s really that simple. If you look into the past of those we commonly consider writers today, they often didn’t have formal specified education in the area of creative writing. This doesn’t mean they didn’t have people in their lives that helped them progress their writing, or that they themselves didn’t work to develop their own writing. But they didn’t need a magical degree with fancy calligraphy declaring that they knew, inherently, what they were doing before they became published authors. Take, for example, J.K. Rowling’s history. Her higher education degrees are in French and Classics from the University of Exeter. While these are definitely areas in which being a strong writer is handy, they are not focused on writing. And yet, here we are, with society holding each character of the Harry Potter series near and dear to our aching hearts.
Yes, but my hypothetical, and strangely interactive for ninth graders, students will say, but she’s published.
So? my hypothetical response will be.
Writers don’t need to be published to be writers. In Anne Lamott’s mostly inspiring, and somewhat instructional book, Bird by Bird she laments that her students often look too far towards publishing as the end-goal of writing. When speaking to students in her writing workshop they are eager to understand the process of getting an agent, being published, and finding their pot of gold at the end of their manuscripts. Lamott explains to them that:
Being published does not equate being a writer. I can confidently say this, because, currently, I am not published.* I am still a writer. I write about teachers, education, jellyfish, Taco Bell, immortality, love, obesity, and mountains. I am not the perfect writer. I have seven different novel ideas stewing in my head that are at once both too overwhelming to take on, and not enough to fill more than twenty pages of text. While I have a Write-1,000-Words-a-Day goal, it often evolves into the Write-1,000-Words-When-the-Internet-Is-Out goal. There is a small, professional looking moleskine notebook that sits in the center console of my car with a G-2 pen designated specifically for ‘writing ideas,’ but more often than not I use the Memo app on my smart phone.
Despite all these shortcomings, I am a writer. You are a writer. We may not be amazing, good, or even average writers, but we write, and we have the ability to get better at it. There is so much potential sitting at our fingertips, I encourage you to put it to good use. I don’t think anyone says it better than Chuck Sambuchino does in his article, “When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?”:
Now. Absolutely right now.
*I was published once in the 6th grade in a Teen Ink magazine for my poem about Sally Ride, the first female astronaut, but I am pretty sure I have to stop putting that on my resume.