Photo of a journal with a fountain pen ready for a writer

How I Learned I was a Writer

“It was a night like this one — the worst night of my life.”

When I heard those words come out of my 5th grade teacher’s mouth, I was elated. They were my words. Words I wrote for a writing assignment. Words she selected to share with the class.

The story was about a bear who recalled the night his mother was killed. It was an incredibly sad story that I still remember to this day even though any evidence of its existence lives only in my memory.

After class, fellow students approached me asking why I had to kill the mom. It was so terrible for the bear!

It was in this moment that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make people feel things with my words. My path had been laid for me.

Lessons quickly learned:

1. The literary prowess you earned from your 5th grade class will not last long.

2. You actually must work to be a writer.

You also need to have people around you who believe writing is a way to make a living. People suggested more practical jobs because writing would not pay the bills. I wanted to pay the bills, so I obtained “good jobs.” It is possible “they” were right. “They” also had a very narrow view of writing. And, if I am honest, so did I.

It seems daunting, if not impossible, to be an author, especially in the days before prolific self-publishing came on the scene. I toyed with other forms of writing, but it also was not deemed practical, so I let it go. It was easier to follow the path of least resistance.

I always came back to writing. It was like a steamy ex-lover who tickles at the edges of your memory when you least expect it. Occasionally, I indulged the fantasy and pulled out a notebook and scribbled some words, sometimes even calling myself a writer.

During grad school, I messed around with writing again, but it was not a serious affair. Perhaps I was not ready to rekindle the romance.

Then fate stepped in and crossed my path with a writer and poet who encouraged me to read my poetry out loud. She was asking me to bare my soul in front of people and I was reluctant, but also excited. Looking back on it now, I can see how both of those emotions played a part in my performance.

The first time I stepped up to the mic, I rushed my words to the point that they melted into one another and, as the last syllable escaped my lips, I promptly ran off the stage. The second time I read, the words came out much more relaxed and I even took the time to thank the audience for listening.

Reading poetry.

This event prompted me to go to a poetry workshop, which required us to write three poems, which we could share if we wanted. I felt like a professional poet at this point since I had read two poems in a coffee shop a couple of weeks prior, so my hand went up and I read two of my poems. After the workshop, a woman approached me and told me that my words moved her.

My words moved her.

I made someone feel something with my words again. It was like I was back in my 5th grade class and the teacher selected my story to read. Only this time I had people around me who supported my writing, encouraged it.

Between the 5th grade class and the poetry workshop were so many times I could have returned to writing and didn’t. I could be mad about the lost time or I can take the experiences I had and share them so others will not surrender to the same fate. If you desire to write, never let the pen stray far from your hand. Others can support you, but it is ultimately up to you to be the writer you want to become.

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Originally published in From the Library, April 2020.

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