I am a Writer, Dammit.
By Kear Anne Simmons
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“That’s awesome! Are you published?”
Every as yet unpublished writer I know has had many versions of this conversation. The most common result? The person asking looks bewildered, and the writer gets that pit in their stomach. The one that makes us feel like we need to explain ourselves. The one that leaves us wondering if we’re grasping at a title we have not yet earned.
When I was a little girl, people would inevitably ask me what I wanted to “be” when I grew up. In hindsight, that’s a very big question to ask a very small person. Ask me now and I’ll probably just tell you I want to be happy. But as kids, when faced with a daunting question that did not yet hold weight and expectation, most replied with answers part-fantasy, part-parental suggestion. There were a lot of future princesses, police officers, presidents, and doctors in my kindergarten class. But me? Somehow, I was sure. When little Kearstie was asked what she would be when she grew up, she responded quickly and proudly: “I’m going to be an author and illustrator of children’s books.”
Never mind that I had yet to show any sort of advanced artistic skill – still haven’t, come to that. I knew, even then, that there were stories I had to tell.
Growing up, I dabbled in many different passions, but writing carried through long after I accepted that my drawing goals were a pipedream. And still, people asked what I wanted to “be” when I grew up – and my answer (which was a lot less certain now) was always accompanied by well-meant, if contradictory, advice. Choose something you love, but make sure to be realistic. Follow your dreams, but stay close to home. You want something that will make good money – oh, but nothing too stressful, dear. So the answer to what I wanted to “be” became more muddled, less clear, under the advice and expectations of others. And my so-clear dream of writing? That fell to the wayside somewhere between finding something realistic yet lucrative (but also, do what you love).
I went into college with serious plans to be an orthodontist, of all things. I’m pretty sure I just looked up well-paying jobs with low stress, and went with that. This is what comes from expecting 18-year-old kids, who had to raise their hand to use the bathroom the year before, to make major life decisions. But I digress.
It only took one college chemistry class to realize I was bored out of my mind – and I blamed my method of choice. Maybe chasing dreams would work better. So out went realistic and profitable, and, as I was enjoying acting in school, in came my theatre major. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized I had no desire to run off and pursue acting in a big city, and I sat down and, maybe for the first time since childhood, thought about what I wanted to be.
And as I sat there, writing in a journal about what I wanted, and what I liked, and what I didn’t, I remember staring down at my pen and notebook and realizing that I was doing what I wanted. That, when confused, when unsure, I returned to what I knew and loved. I returned to the words running through my head, to my thoughts, and to my own abilities. I had been searching for what I wanted to be, and I remember thinking I’d found my goal. I would be a writer.
Now, looking back, I realize that it wasn’t a goal – it was a turning point. I was already a writer. I had been a writer through years of college and high school and grade school, dreaming up poems when I was sad, and journal entries when stressed, and scribbling relentless story ideas at the most inconvenient of times. I had been a writer since I was a little girl with a story in her brain, who decided to take pen to paper and create a world from ink and imagination.
I was a writer, then, and still, it would still take me years to own the title.
What is it about the title of Writer that we find so daunting? Maybe it’s that it, like so many of the arts, is considered more of an abstract, a calling, than a career. Maybe it’s hard for people to consider art as a job, thinking it to be more of a hobby. Har