There is in the next room a box of three-ring binders containing stories written by my younger self, my imagination printed on paper with frayed and stained pages. Tucked in with them are spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebooks filled with book ideas, plot outlines, and half-finished essays and poetry.
I have always wanted to be a writer.
Recently, I have frequently recalled those earlier days when I was just starting to learn the thrill of seeing what was in my head, those worlds I could conjure within moments, suddenly appear before me in a written form.
I remember my first finished, hand-written story, The Changed Life, written at age eleven about a girl in a gang (although I am not sure I even really knew what a gang was back then). Two pages, scrawled in blue ink, riddled with misspelled words and awkward, slanted handwriting slipping out beyond the margins. It sits in that box now, in its original form, edges tattered from its graceless removal from the notebook, rips pieced back together with tape.
I remember one of the first times I felt inspiration, followed by the itch, the need, the drive to write the words before they escaped me. Around that same age, eleven or twelve–tender, naive, curious. On a walking path at the park, cutting through thick trees, hearing a stick snap, my mind roaring with possibilities, none of which included what it actually could have been: a squirrel, a rabbit, a bird. Instead, I conjured images of monsters snarling with razor teeth and predatory beasts seeking prey. And instead of being afraid, I felt exhilarated. When I got home, I retrieved a blank notebook and in big, bold red letters, wrote, THERE’S SOMETHING IN THERE: the title of my next story. I remember sitting outside, atop my dad’s lawnmower, writing urgently, hand cramping, words flowing. I relished that state of having something to say, of having been awakened to something in my own mind, and the need to express it.
I remember my first printed work, typed in Microsoft 2007 and gulping up the last of my parents’ printer ink. Twenty-four pages, single-sided, double-spaced, size fourteen font: The Life of Kale White. I remember the urge to jump up and down as my father laid out the pages on the table before him, reading, editing, making his notes in his neat and familiar handwriting. My brother, hovering, saying, “That’s a pretty good sized book.” And me, watching, could not have felt any more elated.
I remember all the “books” that came after, typed furiously on the internet-less desktop computer I had in my room, monitor decorated in stickers, letters rubbed off on the keyboard. The household nickname given to me, “Clacky Fingers,” because of the way the sound of my typing filled the house. I remember feeling as though every new thing I finished was the best thing I had written; the way every story and every character within it were beloved to me.
I remember the way my grandfather read everything I ever wrote, sitting at the table with his coffee and Raisin Bran, reading the hastily printed pages I had brought him that week. I remember the way he told my father, “She’s good, son. She needs to be published.”
I remember the way my father took the words to heart and searched for a publisher, submitting my stories to just about everyone. I remember the day I was accepted by one, the way my father came into the room, package in his hands, smile on his face. I remember the way my parents celebrated me. Their pride, their thrill. How they paid for me to be published.
I remember being 15 and shopping at JC Penny’s with my mom for new “author” clothes, picking out blouses to wear to my book signings. I remember each event, the bookstores and coffee shops, meeting people, still learning how to create an autograph. I am sure every signed copy out there (not many) has a different-looking signature. I remember loving the way my pen-name sounded, the way it felt to don this new identity, this writer-self.
I have always wanted to be a writer.
I remember also when the metrics came in, that question never considered before: am I any good? In my love, my passion, the awakening of creativity, the need for expression, whether or not I had any skill never occurred to me.
I remember the way the standards took something from me, robbed me of the unabashed joy I had felt. I remember the shame, the lens of scrutiny, the deletion of drafts, the endless drive to make my writing better, to write a story people would actually want to read. I remember throwing notebooks away, tearing up pages, deleting documents.
I remember that time in my life where I simply did not write at all.
I bought into an idea that I wasn’t any good and suddenly that thing I loved, that thing I needed like I needed air, became nothing more than another thing in which I had to prove myself.
I remember the draft in late high school, The Troubled Man’s War, and the way one hundred pages would be written and then discarded; two hundred pages written, backspace held down; a hundred more, gone. I remember the frustration, the cancerous ache to get it “right,” to write something that would be worth people’s time.
I remember asking God, desperately, “What do you want me to write?”
And his response to me: “What do you want to write?”
I remember the way the healing set in, the release, the slow disintegration of standards. I spent less time worrying about writing something good, something people would like, and focused more on simply writing the stories I wanted and needed to tell; exploring my own mind and the boundaries of my own imagination.
I remember the first draft I had completed in years, finished after high school: The Rhythm of Pain. I remember how it was the first story I had written in a long time that I actually felt proud of, the first time my something I had written was lovely to me. I still love it. It sits in a folder on my desktop where I revisit it often, reading, enjoying. I remember the way I would listen to My Diamond is Too Rough by Ryan Bingham as I daydreamed, imagining my own characters coming to life.
I recall how, even now, in this re-found sense of love and joy there is a fear. A fear of losing it again. A fear of sharing my work, hearing the critics call, and letting the standard and the shame rob me again. I have a sense of imposter syndrome, something comparing me to others and saying, “You’re not as good as they are; you’re not a real writer.”
I remember saying this to a fellow artist and his reply: “Do you write? Then you are a real writer.”
I remember the goals set at the beginning of every year. The goal of writing more, sharing more, blogging once a week, getting my book of poetry published, letting an editor friend read over my vast collection of manuscripts to tell me if there’s anything there.
I have always wanted to be a writer.
And this year is no different. Written in a journal sitting next to me is the same goal, listed in so many different variations throughout the years: write and SHARE.
In the constant recollection of my own story, of my relationship with writing and creativity, coupled with the fresh start of a new year, I feel a renewed sense of hope that this will finally be the year I “get serious” about writing. I tell myself I need people to “hold me accountable,” to make sure I am “putting myself out there.”
There is within me also a fear, a nagging thing, telling me that I will let this year slip me by, that I will continue to lurk in shadows, typing furiously late into the night, words no one will ever read.
And a struggle, an internal battle. I know now: I am not a writer because I write; I write because I am writer. It’s a thing as natural and necessary to me as breathing, and is, in fact, the very way my soul does find breath, finds ease, finds its voice. It’s the way I express myself, get to know myself; the way I connect with God, hear from God; it is the way I worship and commune with him.
And “sharing” and “building a platform” almost seems sacrilegious, like inviting an audience to witness a sacred moment of prayer.
So where does that leave me? This writer tossed into the mix of things, so lost inside my love for this craft, my desire to share, my desire for things to stay sacred, my fear of losing myself, the fear of critique, all the things I need and want to say, all the ways I long to be known, all the ways I fear being exposed.
I do not know why my mind has been so encumbered by these memories, why I wake every day with the image of a younger me, brace-faced and eager, standing by the printer and watching as it spits out everything I held in secret places inside me.
I am not even sure why I am writing it all down here now, drumming it all up and typing it all out as sunlight pours in through my bedroom window with the scent of a vanilla candle filling the room, my man lying next to me, Daisy curled by my feet.
I suppose I have just been writing stories long enough to know when one needs to be told; to know when the time has come to let something held inside find air, find rhythm, to take on shape, to make itself known.
Perhaps it is because I have been writing long enough to know when I have something to say and when it’s time to say it.
And, looking back endearingly at the journey leading me here, in this moment, I only know that the story isn’t over yet. My story isn’t over yet. I have no idea how it ends; I only get to move forward.