When I was laid off last December, I thought I’d never find a job as great as the one I’d just lost—researching and writing for Wall Street. It was the job that saved me from being a lawyer, and after six years away, I knew I didn’t want to go back to practicing law; I wanted to write for a living.
So I joined every LinkedIn group I could find with the words writer or editor in the name, signed up for hiring alerts about writing and editing jobs, even offered my editing services for no compensation but the credit. And because I’d heard about (though I hadn’t seen or read) The Secret, I began to visualize myself—and even to refer to myself—as a writer.
What I didn’t do, what it seemed I couldn’t do, was write. Without an assignment, it seemed I had nothing to say. People would ask what I was up to and I would say, “I’m trying to do some writing,” and I would hear myself and I would think, Trying? Really? When is the last time you tried to write? And then I would think, Trying? Why don’t you just write?
Occasionally I would churn something out. A piece for NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest, a poem about my aunt’s funeral. But the infrequency with which I created content fed into my self-doubt until, at some point, I began to define myself by my not writing. Writers write, I thought. I don’t write. I’m not a writer.
It was my brother John who convinced me I was, in fact, a writer. He had a hunch that setting me up with a blog would force me to be accountable: to him, to anyone who happened to follow me, maybe only to myself.
He was right. I loved blogging, and I surprised both him and myself with the number of posts I turned out. Then, just as I was beginning to think of myself as a real writer, I got a job.
And suddenly, my imagination of myself as a writer felt threatened. Even though my new title is editor, even though I am writing and editing every day, even though I am getting paid to write—every writer’s dream, my dream, the job I had before the layoff only better—it seemed like it didn’t count. After all, I wrote for a living for six years and never called myself a writer then. If I’m only writing what someone is telling me to, I thought, I’m not really a writer.
Then, last night, I read a blog post titled Guess What, You’re a Writer, and in five minutes Jason Fry had turned me back into one. The post was about a bad day he was having at The Wall Street Journal Online, where he had a job very much like mine: writing and editing a lot of projects with wide-ranging subject matter and hard deadlines The day he writes about, all the responsibilities of the day had fallen to him and he couldn’t see how it would all get done. He says he began to feel “very, very sorry for myself.” And then he remembered another day, sitting in his eighth-grade algebra class dreaming of being a writer, counting the hours of agony he would have to endure in the classroom before he could get back to the space opera he was writing. The memory made him smile.
You wanted to be a writer, I reminded myself. Well guess what? You’re a writer. You did it. You’ve got all day, and all anybody wants you to do with it is write. So write.
Thank you, Jason. I will write. Because I am a writer.