This story is my first contribution to the blogging group, Finish the Sentence Friday. This week’s writing prompt is: “In 2015, I learned….”
In 2015, I learned I was a writer.
Actually, learned may not be the most accurate word. Remembered is perhaps a better depiction.
All I know is that it had been far too many years since I had referred to myself by that title.
I was nine when I took my first formal stab at writing. It was a short story called Horse Show Challenge and I found it recently while sorting through a box of old mementos. Bound by square pieces of cardboard that were encased in what appears to be kitchen drawer liner paper (the green and yellow flowered pattern screams 1970s), the hardback’s pages are meticulously typed and numbered. On the final page, my 4th grade class photo accompanies an “About the Author” synopsis.
What struck me the most wasn’t the fact that I once fancied myself an illustrator (are those horses or stick caricatures?), or that I had officially documented ©1979, or even, that I — the ultimate practitioner in clutter aversion — had managed to not throw the thing away after 35 years.
But rather, I was taken aback by the words I had inscribed on the inside panel: “Note to Readers: Horse Show Challenge was the author’s first book.”
While it amuses me now to see such an authoritative statement in my 4th grade assignment, it’s clear that I had big plans for writing, intentions that (thankfully) didn’t end with the debut of my initial story. Despite the fact that I hadn’t yet even skipped into my second decade of life, I knew, inherently, that I was destined to be a writer.
Without giving it a second thought, throughout my childhood I continued to compile short stories and poems. I spent hours pouring every thought, emotion and sacred wish into journal entries. I went on to become the yearbook editor in high school, and wrote a 150-page novel that I submitted to a teen book publishing contest (it didn’t win). When faced with selecting a college, I chose San Diego State University for its journalism program.
There, I relished the assignment of memorizing the hundreds of intricate rules that govern proper writing technique per the AP Style Guide. I was a staff writer for the university’s newspaper, The Daily Azetc, and just before graduating, I sold my first article — a piece on Feline Urological Syndrome — to Cats magazine. I still recall that far more rewarding than the $150 check I received (which I actually photocopied, framed and hung on my wall) was the knowledge that I had successfully applied the advice of my magazine writing professor to parlay regular life experiences (in my case, an expensive vet bill) into a paycheck.
With my diploma in hand, in 1992 I ventured into an era where newspapers (not one, but several) still littered driveways and doorsteps. When I got married, I chose to keep my maiden name because I loved the way it looked in print, and secretly hoped that one day my former professors might see my byline in The New York Times.
I paid my dues working as a reporter at a couple of weekly community newspapers, while also freelancing feature stories for several magazines. Whether chasing firefighters as they battled blazes, toiling past midnight at marathon city council and school board meetings, or savoring the opportunity to write my own personal column, I was living the dream I had first glimpsed as a 9-year-old hunting-and-pecking behind my typewriter: I was a writer!
But somewhere along the way — between raising three kids and making car payments and being forced to choose practical career paths — I lost my voice.
When my first son was born nearly 20 years ago, without hesitation, I abandoned the world of journalism for a marketing career that afforded me the flexibility of working from home. Granted, the majority of my responsibilities have continued to involve writing — from constructing customer testimonials to composing technology-based articles to configuring web site copy. While the work is generally fulfilling and pays the bills, my creativity and passion have nonetheless felt stifled.
And then last year, completely unexpectedly, I was so moved by a personal situation that I felt compelled to put pen to paper. I wrote a story about my widowed friend, Chrissy, and the heart-wrenching lengths she takes to ensure her young daughter will always know her father.
Though I had honestly never even considered starting a blog, I found myself purchasing a URL, quickly navigating the Word Press tutorial, and within an hour, Chrissy’s story was live.
The feedback from her friends was overwhelming. One comment in particular really struck a chord with me: “Melissa … said what so many of us feel but can’t put into words,” one commentor wrote. “Tears are rolling down my face.”
And that’s it; that is precisely what compels me to write. It is the ability to wrap emotion around words. To incite feeling. Writing is therapy. It is celebration. It is release. Writing is introspective, shared outwardly.
So I kept going. I wrote about my kids and my marriage and my ovaries. I wrote about recovering from an eating disorder and tracking my teen’s cell phone and reflecting on my divorce. I tentatively composed a humor piece about a recent acupuncture treatment and was nothing short of shocked when readers responded that they were “in tears, laughing so hard.” (People I didn’t know! Strangers! Not close friends trying to pump me up!)
You see, a funny thing happened on my way to publishing my first blog; I rediscovered that I was, in fact, a writer.
This reflection really hit home few weeks ago, when a new acquaintance inquired about what I did for a living. For nearly two decades I have identified myself as a marketing professional, but instead, “I’m a writer,” rolled right off my tongue.
Last year, I earned up to $2,500 for writing a 2,000-word technology piece, but the $100 I received for a published blog far eclipsed the superior fee. The former represents compensation for a professional service, but the latter is an immeasurable validation that my voice matters.
It’s the recognition that by opening up the window to my heart and soul, I might have something meaningful to convey. It’s the hope that some random thought or ordinary experience could resonate with a larger audience. By peeling back the layers, perhaps I can communicate a story that will cause someone else to ruminate or relate, maybe garner an emphatic “me too!” or “thanks for sharing, I needed that!”
I don’t regret any of the career choices I’ve made, but I do mourn the consequence that along the way, I lost my voice, my passion. Writing about data center trends affords me the best of both worlds; it helps pay the mortgage while allowing me to be a stay-at-home-mom, and believe me, I’m eternally grateful for that.
But blogging in 2015 restored my voice. It made me realize that being a writer isn’t what I do. It’s who I am.