‘You’ll never be a writer’
‘You’ll never be a writer,’ or:
That’s exactly what my mother told me.
Writers have to be crazy people. Writers drink too much, screw around, can’t stay married. Writers never make any money.
Nothing. For years, nothing at all. Just grumbling and grousing in my journal. Then I felt something so strongly I had to write it and I did, in a hurry before the voice of my mother killed it. I didn’t tell a soul what I had dared to do. I just stuck the pages into an envelope, mailed it off and forgot about it. One day I got a check for 12 lovely dollars from the publication, a horsey newsletter. They printed my writing— now it was a real article—under my by-line.
I was so happy I cried.
Mother was completely wrong. I am not crazy, I don’t drink too much and I am happily married. Well, for the second time.
It’s true I don’t make enough money to support myself and my writing has angered a few fatheads. But I don’t have to “speak for everyone,” just for myself. It turns out there are plenty of people like myself who enjoy reading what they’re already thinking or about to think or would have thought if I hadn’t written it first.
I don’t have to write The Odyssey or Gone with the Wind, so I write about ordinary life. If you’re a woman, a parent, any person who has known love and despair, anger and fear, we have a lot in common.
When the first spark dimmed
That was Stage One: sheer delight. Ha ha on Mom. Then the spark I had struck dimmed.
Only the gods can write.
That shut me down for years while I waited for My Big Life Story to unfold. Long wait. Life Story unfolded but was not big enough for a book. I’d never dare write a book. Only gods could do that.
Years passed. One ordinary day at a time added up to a lifetime of ordinary.
More events pissed me off. I wrote more articles.
A random suggestion
People who read my articles seemed to think I could write a whole book. A joke, right? One man suggested I write about a 19th Century bag lady whose portrait hung in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, long ignored. What a preposterous idea! Then I wrote her story as a radio drama and, by golly, National Public Radio bought it and aired it.
Still not a book. Years passed, more articles. One day I said out loud in front of a lot of people, “I’d like to write a book.”
In one year I had written my first book, and that won a prize.
But I still didn’t believe I was a writer. If I became a writer I would become a crazy, penniless drunk, lose my marriage and piss people off.
All this and a husband too
Many people say they want to be writers. What’s the difference between wanting to do it and doing it?
Giving yourself permission. Accepting that you may become your mother’s worst nightmare, a crazy, drunken slut. Oh, and poor, too. That you’ll undoubtedly reveal to your readers that you never did have a Big Life. That you weep when your dog dies and burn the onions in the frying pan. That you fuck up, that you’re a jerk.
But in between, that you are a living, breathing pilgrim on the road to Jerusalem, just like any other person, and that is exactly your value to mankind. Our ordinary words bind us, teach us, support and encourage us to love one another and ourselves. Writing our ordinary lives takes us out of ourselves and back home to our own hearts.
Reed Stevens is the author, most recently, of Santa Fe Dreamhouse, published by iUniverse.