What Makes You a Writer

#DailyWings: ““We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.”-Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been a while. With newspaper articles, magazine stories, research papers and midterm exams swinging at me like cherry bombs every few days, I’m beginning to understand how a juggler must feel. These days, I’m averaging four hours of sleep and barely have time to eat or take a mental breather. Occasionally, I’ll watch an episode of “My Mad Fat Diary” just to remind myself not to go, well, mad. 

I miss writing. To keep myself content, I have written some poetry. Short pieces, portholes for me to displace my strongest emotions.But I miss prose. I miss long-winded sentences that keep going and going until you aren’t quite sure how you got from Point A to Point B but you know you’re in a different place than you were before you started and it feels like a good thing.

It’s true that I crank out two to four stories every week for the town newspaper, and it’s been an incredible training experience so far. But last night, I cracked open my journal for the first time in a month. One month! I couldn’t believe that it had been that long since I actually sat down to write for myself without worrying about making the sentences perfect. I miss making mistakes and letting them be. I miss writing for the love of it.

The thing is, when people find out I’m a writer, they always ask: “So, what exactly do you write? Why do you do it?”

I tell them it’s impossible for me to go one week without writing — otherwise, I start to feel miserable and become a cranky person to be around. I tell them that going so long without writing makes me start to fall apart in every possible way. The lack of an expressive outlet, a canvas on which to put my thoughts, raw and dripping with intention and emotion, makes me feel like I’m trapped in a jar. 

Here’s the awful part. Last night, I only opened my long-neglected journal because, finally, I could feel myself slipping. My ability to stay on top of things — studying for school, reporting for stories, remembering to eat — had reached its threshold and was going downhill. Fast. 

Let me say it again: I only began to write again because every other part of my life was beginning to crumble. Because I figured doing some journal work would allow me to focus on my “real” work — the work that actually counts. Pathetic.

That was the first time I wrote in a month, and for disgusting reasons. One whole month! I wondered, almost afraid of the answer, How can I call myself a writer when I don’t even write consistently? Does this mean I’ve lied to the people who think I’m incapable of going a week without writing because I so obviously love and need it that much? 

As I pondered over these questions, a part of me felt like a total fraud. One of the most flawed tendencies a writer can have is to only write when it’s convenient. When the “itch” is there and time allows. As it goes, I’ve easily fallen into that trap.

Yet, something occurred to me. I’d labeled myself as an awful person for going on hiatus and practically abandoning my personal literary ventures. But then what made me return to my journal, and to this blog, again? The thing is, no matter how long it’s been or for whatever reasons, I always come back. 

Even though I’m working nearly every day toward my dream journalism career, I’ve realized it’s not enough. there is still this need to take the time to be creative in my own way. I’ve flirted with different pathways — clinical psychology, medical school, freelance artistry, even archaeology, for God’s sake! I could be doing anything else in the world, but the literary life just keeps popping up.

I chose UNC-Chapel Hill instead of some hipster arts and communications college in Boston to keep my options open, but I still went into journalism. Even when midterms loom ahead, I get inspired for my next poem and make sure to write down a couple phrases for later. Even when I’m writing a 50k-word novel and it totally sucks, I keep going. Even when I hate myself for ignoring the words in my head that are just begging to be written, I jot them down anyway — even if it is one month late. Maybe Albus Dumbledore was on to something when he said it’s our choices that make us who we are.

So when people ask what makes me a writer and why, I’ll tell them it’s not because my life depends on it; to a certain extent that may be true, but I like to think that I’m a writer because I choose to write. Maybe it’s better this way. Now that I think about it, telling people I don’t live to write, but that I write to live, seems like such an easy way out. The truth is, I chose to come back and start again. And if that wasn’t for the love of writing, I don’t know what is. 

It could be the black ink that just never rubs off the side of your middle finger. It could be that you stay up past midnight because the words are just flowing and, oh god, you don’t know how long this high will last. It could be that your best friends all happen to come from stories — yours, especially. What makes you a writer? 

7 responses to “What Makes You a Writer”

  1. Kerri says:

    Wendy,can I just tell you how super and incredible and inspiring you are? Thank you for writing this blog post. It was a kick in the butt that I really needed right now.

    Stay groovy, mamasita!

    Love,

    Kerri :D

  2. Hopeful Life says:

    Wendy, thanks for the inspiration and reflection.

  3. Kristen says:

    I think the worst thing we can do to ourselves as people/writers is set expectations on ourselves and punish ourselves for not living up to them. This self-punishment only dampens our inspiration and prolongs our period away from writing.

    We are human before we are writers. We have to do what needs to be done in our lives: work, school, taking care of basic health needs. These things sometimes force their ways to the leading positions of our list of priorities at the expense of our writing. What I’ve realized is that writers, as you said, will always return to that outlet; and not only will the writer return, the down time in-between will also haunt him or her. Writers think about writing daily. It crosses our minds at least once in the day: “Oh, I should write a poem,” or “I need to write this idea down to elaborate tonight or at some other time.” This carries over to the way we view the world as well. If we pick up a good book, short story, or article, the writers and their works inspire us, driving us to create something of our own in response.

    It’s not the consistency of practicing the form, as professional, well-known writers like to insist. This is a discouraging statement, since they are the ones who have already passed that period of completing school, establishing a career, and building some sense of security in their lives. On their part, it’s an unrealistic statement that only discourages the aspiring writers who look up to them and believe what they say. And the resulting self-doubt we experience is a reaction to carelessly directed words by those who should best understand the impact of words and the struggle every writer faces. Nothing is going to happen to you if you skip a week…or month…or even year of writing. It’ll slow you down from reaching your goal or next achievement, but it doesn’t ruin the writer within.

    Writing is a way of life. It finds its way into some of the least inspirational moments or periods in our lives. People who don’t consider themselves writers don’t find importance in that mode of expression. They never consider doing it. It doesn’t move them emotionally, nor does it touch their souls. Writers find the written word exhilarating, whether they are reading or writing it. We can feel the soul of each word, as if they each have a self-contained life of their own.

    *Getting off my soap box* Thank you for inspiring the writer in me first thing in the morning, and sorry for the long response. ;)

  4. Donna Hole says:

    What makes me a writer is some of the same as your’s; because its what I choose to do and I feel better about myself when I’m writing. Things make sense when I write about them.

    Writing everyday isn’t as important to me as being dedicated to the craft. Sometimes I don’t have the time, and sometimes I don’t have the inclination; but a lot of times, I enjoy stringing words and concepts together and creating whatever comes of it. Its mine; I did that!

    Being a writer is like any other hobby, or profession. Its a dedication, not a job. Getting paid is a bonus. Feeling good about what you do is essential.

    You’re a lot of important things Wendy – vegetarian, student, journalist, writer, daughter and lover of life. Sometimes you’re more one of those than the others, but just as not calling your parents for a couple weeks doesn’t end your daughter status, and you retain your student status even through the summer vacation; you’re still a writer/author even if you don’t write for yourself for a month. Or more.

    Thanks for sharing your insights and concerns Wendy. We’ve all been overwhelmed and questioned ourselves at some point. I read your posts and I am hopeful for the future of young people. Cut back when the strain requires, and take time to just enjoy the world you are making better by your continuing efforts. It’s ok to just breathe and relax sometimes :)

    …….dhole

  5. Wendy Lu says:

    Kerri: Thank you so much; you’re the best! Miss you, love!

    Hopeful: Thanks for stopping by; much appreciated!

    Kristen: Your comment truly resonated with me, particularly the bit about how writers think about writing even when they aren’t doing so. I know that’s very true for me as well.

    I think you’re definitely on to something about writing being a way of life; what makes us writers isn’t necessarily how often or consistently we write, but our passion and love for the art.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You’ve given me a lot to think about, dear friend!

    Donna: “Things make sense” — EXACTLY. Once you unravel all the thoughts tangled up in your mind and loosen those knots to become a single string of words, it feels as though everything comes together nicely. You reach some conclusion or solution that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I agree that “feeling good about what you do is essential,” though I will say it is much more difficult to do so when finances are a factor. This is especially true for people who make writing their primary career. Oh, if only we
    lived in a world where writers were paid more and critiqued less! :P

    Also, your analogy about how not calling our parents for a week doesn’t end our child status really brought me comfort. It feels good to know that even if I don’t write every single day or take an occasional break, I’m still a writer and always will be!

    Thank you for your empathy and kind words, Donna.

  6. Ember Leigh says:

    Thank you for a great post! I absolutely agree with your final point. I often say that I write because I HAVE to, that I can’t function without it. And while that is true, I think I much prefer your point: that I do it because I love it. Writing and me, we’re in a serious relationship! ;)

    Though I do find it interesting that you were disgusted with yourself for “not having written in a month”, despite having cranked out so many stories on a weekly basis for the newspaper. As a writer, I know these are VASTLY different methods of expression. Yet, they’re both still writing.

    I bring this up because I find myself getting to be SO hard on myself for not doing things a very specific, exacting manner. Like, I haven’t met my goal of 2 short stories for the month, and I feel like a failure. But I don’t take into consideration that I revised a full novel, and submitted something to a contest. (But that’s not the writing you WANTED to do, I’ll tell myself.) But really, if I’d just lighten up, I’d realize that I’m making progress as a writer when it’s all said and done, even if I’m not hitting every marker I set for myself (and let’s be real, sometimes we set too many markers to feasibly reach as a human being).

    Thanks again for your words! You’ve reminded me, I need to crack open my journal as well…it’s been about a week, and one of my goals was to journal weekly instead of monthly :)

    –Ember

  7. Wendy Lu says:

    Hi Ember! Thanks so much for visiting and for your insightful comment. I totally understand what you mean about being hard on yourself for not accomplishing specific goals – and I’m sure many others can relate as well. I think it’s important to realize that our goals and priorities almost always shift over the course of a year, and so we’re focusing on different projects that normally weren’t on our agenda (or maybe weren’t so high up on the list). Which is totally okay :) I think it’s amazing that you revised an entire novel! Congratulations! And the fact that you submitted an entry into a contest shows you’re actually doing something with a piece you wrote!

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