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.