Have you ever received a gift that took you totally by surprise because it was exactly what you needed even though, until you opened it, you didn’t know such a thing existed?
On Thursday when I got home from work there was an unexpected box in front of my door. I hadn’t ordered anything and I didn’t recognize the return address on the label. I opened the box to find the most thoughtful gift a writer could receive: a box of advice, treats, prompts, and beautiful writing. The box was sent to me by my dear friend Marisa, a writer who has provided me with the most generous feedback on my work and with encouragement to keep going. The writing contained in the box came in three forms: a slim journal called Plume: A Writer’s Companion featuring the writing of Judy Reeves; a memoir by Belle Boggs called The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood, that I can’t wait to read; and a letter by Judy Reeves, the featured writer, with exactly the advice about writing that I needed just at that moment.
What was the advice? Name yourself a writer. “Because until you do,” she cautions, “you won’t take the next step.” You won’t make time for your writing, and thus you won’t write, or at least not regularly enough, and not with the focus required to be the writer you want to be.
The message is important. Sometimes we need to name ourselves for what we are before we believe we deserve it. I’ve written since I was a child. I wrote my first book in the fifth grade and it was called The Adventures of Mina the Monkey. I wrote it for the Young Authors contest and won a prize for it. But I didn’t think I was a writer. I wrote stories throughout high school and college, but didn’t call myself a writer. I wrote senior thesis and later a dissertation, but I didn’t call myself a writer. I wrote articles that were published in academic journals and a blog that used to get thousands of readers a week, but I didn’t call myself a writer. And now I have written a memoir that will be published next fall, and I still don’t always remember to call myself a writer. Why not? Because I’m not good enough yet? Because I don’t earn money from writing? Because if I’m truly a writer then I’ll really have to write?
I listed “Writer” first on this web site so I would remember to bring that part of my identity to the fore. It’s easy to call myself a sociologist because that is the thing I get paid the most to do, but we are each more than the things we get paid to do. We know that intrinsically when we all ourselves partners, parents, lovers, and friends, but when it comes to the work we are passionate about, we sometimes forget to truly name ourselves. Reading this letter from Judy Reeves, a person I’ve never met, sent via a friend who seemed to know just what I needed, gives me the added encouragement I need to truly name myself a writer.
I am a writer. What are you?