Like many bloggers, I have the fantasy of being a “real writer.” From the time I could string words together to make sentences on my Big Chief writing tablet, I wrote. My first inkling I was any good at it was when a high school English teacher accused me of cheating–she was convinced I had someone else write my paper for a creative writing assignment. Her grilling me on the meaning of the word “azure” is one of my fondest memories of high school.
Because I didn’t know any writers, I didn’t know what to do with my desire to write. I didn’t know what sort of coursework writers enrolled in when it came time for college. I didn’t know what major you declared when you knew your life’s work should involve writing. My father was an engineer. My mother didn’t go to college. I was on my own in a world with no Internet and a shitty guidance counselor. I knew writers wrote for newspapers, so I declared journalism as my major. My father was rather dismayed. He told me I could never make a decent living as a journalist. After a year, I began to fear he was right, and started attending classes in the business building: accounting, finance, marketing, and management. None of those areas excited me, and so I floundered around, ending up with a B.B.A.–Bachelors of Business Administration. Shortly before graduation, still uncertain what I wanted to be when I grew up, I took the LSAT. Not because I had any particular pull to be a lawyer; but because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my B.B.A. degree. I don’t recall how I did on the exam. But I do recall I wasn’t motivated to commit to three more years of school for a career I was unsure of, and so I ended up taking the first decent job offer I received–a claims adjuster with Aetna insurance company.
I was an adjuster for 7 years, interacting with the lawyers who sued policyholders for car crashes, and slip and falls, and environmental disasters. I was also responsible for managing the lawyers the insurance company hired to defend the policyholders who got sued. Eventually I decided being a lawyer was a more lucrative and respectable way to earn a living than being an insurance adjuster, and so I quit my job, cashed in my 401k, and became a One L. In law school I learned about passive and active voice, split infinitives, and footnotes. I made law review. I was elected to an articles editor post on the law review editorial board. I wrote a “comment” that the law review published. I was asked to join moot court teams to be their head brief writer. My briefs won first place nationally. I was writing. I was winning. But I wasn’t a real writer.
Upon graduation from law school, I went to work for a Houston firm. I wrote research memos, letters, motions, and briefs. I wrote, and I worked on paying down my student loans. I would become alarmed by the conditions at the firm–the ethics (arguably outright fraud) and the treatment of women. In retrospect, I could have sued them and had a fairly nice nest-egg to start my retirement account, but I was young and naïve. Which they no doubt took advantage of. Instead of suing them, I left. I wanted out of law-firm life entirely, and almost took a job as an in-house lawyer with an insurance company in Manchester, New Hampshire. I wouldn’t have to work as many hours, and I had visions of working on my writing. I imagined being shut in by the snow a good part of the year, writing by the fire, the cats snoozing contentedly beside me. I imagined being a real writer.
Instead of an insurance company in New Hampshire, I took a job with a small law firm in Austin. And I write. Mostly it’s law-related. Over the years, I’ve written multiple legal articles that have been published. I’m an editor on few legal publications–I’m on three different mastheads. I wrote a chapter of a book published by Thomson Reuters (not the entire book, mind you) for which I receive tiny royalty checks. And I fiddle around with this blog. But I’m not a real writer.
Three years ago, the 9-lawyer firm I was working for merged into a 900-plus lawyer firm. The dynamics have changed. The push to do more, bill more, be more has increased exponentially. In the midst of the transition from small firm to mega firm, three members of my family died. Between April 2012 and March 2013, I lost both my brothers and my father. In May 2013, I turned 50. My mother became gravely ill in July 2013, but recovered mostly, and now is in an assisted living facility.
As a result of the events of the past few years, I’ve been broken open. And I realize my legal career means nothing. The accomplishments, prestige, recognition. None of it matters. I refuse to spend the majority of my waking hours, hours in which I’m healthy and vibrant, doing something I don’t care about. So I’ve made a retirement plan that should get me out within ten years. Ten more years.
In 10 more years I can become a real writer.
Screw that. I can’t quit my job yet, but I am not going to wait another 10 years, until I’m 60. I’m going to work on my goal of becoming a real writer now. But what does a real writer look like? Maybe it’s like what Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography–you’ll know it when you see it. It’s time I got started looking.
Remember that book on writing I mentioned that I found so inspirational, Writing Is My Drink? The author of that book, Theo Pauline Nestor, is doing a writing workshop in June at Orcas Island, Washington. Despite my feelings of being a real-writer imposter, I’ve signed up. Worst case, she kicks me out and I spend the week hiking, kayaking, and whale watching. Along with the workshop, she offers one-on-one time. I’ve not yet screwed up the courage to sign up for a one-on-one. That would require me to write something I’d actually want her to critique. But I’ve got four months. So my goal, over the next four months, is to write a piece to share at the workshop. A piece to be incorporated into a memoir. My memoir.
Despite my fears and feelings of inadequacy, I’m going to become a real writer.
This was a really great post. Very honest and open. I think writers struggle all the time with calling themselves writers, but I think if you write, you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter what you write — if it’s what you love to do, then that’s who you are. You’re a real writer already.
I’m so glad to read that you’re going for what you want, though. I’ve recently entered that period of my life (the mid-20s) where I’m supposed to transfer into the real world. But I fear that if I go after a “real job,” I’ll end up twenty years down the road wondering where my time has gone for my writing career. I was an English major back in undergrad, and I did actually consider law school as a way of making ends meet. I decided it wasn’t right for me, so I’ve been working on my Master’s (it’s in a foreign language so it has taken extra time), and I’m thinking about pursuing the Ph.D. Often, though, I still feel like I don’t know what I want to be when I ‘grow up’ — other than a writer. A paid one.
It is interesting to read your perspective, and in a way, your story inspires me to take the plunge. Regardless, I wish you the best on your journey.
Thanks for sharing your story!
Thank you so much for reading, Michelle, and leaving such a lovely comment. From my perspective, your choice to forgo law was absolutely the right one. It does help to make ends meet, but it sucks you in and leaves you with not much time for anything else. And it kills creativity. If I could give you any advice, it would be to follow your gut. And ignore societal expectations. The real world is overrated.
Thanks for the advice. That’s my plan, more or less — to follow my instincts.
So here’s to the writing future! 🙂
I am so glad you signed up for the conference. You are a real write and such acts only serve to confirm it (most importantly to you!) . Congratulations.
Ah, confirmation! I like the sound of that. Thank you, Kimberly. Your writing often makes me feel brave.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m so excited to hear you say this. Your words flow easily and you write exceptionally well.
I have a background of writers in my family, including my grandfather who was the editor of Time magazine in the 1940’s and my father who was editor for McCall’s magazine and then Life magazine back in the heyday of the 60’s. My father went on to write a number one NYT bestseller that stayed on the list for over a year. His book sold over one million copies — can you even imagine? My blog has 16,000 views and I think that sounds like a lot!
I’m glad you signed up for a writer’s workshop — it gives you something to do that you like right now rather than waiting 10 years to begin!
Clap, clap, clap… 🙂
What you wrote to me the other day was in part my inspiration, Fern. I started to tell myself that I’m not a “real writer” so I can’t go to a writing workshop. And then I thought about what you wrote, and I thought about all these years of holding myself back, and I said, “Screw it. I’m in.”
You have a fascinating family history. And it’s clearly in your blood. I’m very curious what your father’s NYT bestseller was…. 16,000 views is a lot!
I sent you a private email in answer to your question. I trust you to respect my privacy — even though I am not anyone important here or in real life. 🙂 I like my anonymity.
good for you! follow that dream! live it now! you shall have all that you want!
Yes, Gert. Now! Thank you for cheering me on.
A writer is a writer when he/she writes … it is as simple as that.
To be an author you need to be published, to be an artist you need to go fictional, but to be a writer all you need is to write.
Thanks, Fran. I like these distinctions. So I am a writer. But not an artist. And I’m an author. But not a “real author.” 🙂
That really must be something you’re looking forward to. Hope you manage to get something together so you can have that one-to-one!
It’s good to have something to look forward to that comes sooner than retirement. I hope I get something written, too! Thanks for popping in. 🙂
Oooooh !! If you weren’t a lawyer I would slap your wrist for saying, “Despite my fears and feelings of inadequacy, I’m going to become a real writer.”
Oooooh !! I have just read more than enough excuses in this post that you could write a book about them. Multiply this post by 200 and you are there.
Oooooh !! Amazingly, although you are a lawyer, I understood every word in this post 😉 You ARE a brilliant real writer !!
Do you remember how nervous you felt when you pressed Publish on your very first post, when it became live for the whole world to read. Then you got your first Like & Comment. It’s just the same writing a book. Don’t make excuses. Just do it young lady !!
Sharpen your pencil or polish your keyboard and go for it…… Chapter 1…….
Big hug. Ralph xox 😀
Thank you so much for this, Ralph. You really know how to make a girl feel good. And laugh. 🙂 I wrote some on the plane after reading this and titled the entry: Chapter One. It felt pretty cool.
No excuses. Unless they’re a chapter in the book. Which just might work….
That’s a great start >>>>>
Chapter 1. It felt pretty cool………..
You’ve got me hooked already 😀
Funny man. 🙂
I’m so happy I can say, “I knew you when”. It’s kinda like sleeping with the drummer in a band.
Ha. In my experience (alas, many years ago), drummers were usually more interesting than lead vocals.