While earning an MFA in Creative Writing, I remember feeling out of place, thinking, “I love to write, I want to write, but I’m not the writer type.” I didn’t want to sit at coffee houses or attend poetry slams and it seemed to me that’s what most writers did. I didn’t enjoy pontificating about literature. I just liked to write.
Much of my attitude was immaturity—believing that people could be grouped so accordingly. And much was fear—thinking I had to fit inside the box, wondering if I could, instead of creating my own.
So instead of becoming a “writer,” I got a few jobs after grad school that could be perceived as writing jobs. I loved these jobs, and they whetted at least part of my writerly appetite. But I remember someone asking me when was the last time I wrote for myself, and I couldn’t remember. Years. This was atypical, as I’d been consistently writing poems and stories since elementary school.
The urge to write never went away. I just ignored it. It came in waves, a physical feeling akin to any craving. It just won’t quit for some people, and I’m one of those people.
While pregnant with my first child, I decided I would stay home. I really believed, and still do, that this was the right decision for me. But looking back at my trajectory, I can see clearly that I was probably, at least partly, finally giving myself permission to write. The Responsible side of me would be taken care of—what is more important and pressing than raising one’s children? Now, the Creative side of me could pursue its dream of writing a book.
In 2011, I joined SheWrites, an online writing community. It was my first foray into the online world and I was nervous, had never even participated in a chat room and had no idea what the rules were.
The welcome was immediate. Maybe it’s the comfort of writing in semi-anonymity from our couches that allows us to be authentic and open. (The same comfort that allows some lesser people to rip others to shreds online.) But the same was true for the writers I met in person at the Backspace conference. In the writing friendships I have formed, there’s been no pretense. Writers share information, encouragement, and love, I’ve found, and I’m proud to (finally) call myself one of them.
I talked about all this last weekend with a writer-friend whom until then I knew only online. She was visiting Chicago from Kansas for her daughter’s soccer tournament and we planned to meet for dinner. I joked beforehand to my husband that I was going on a blind date. Only, when I walked into the restaurant and Hallie Sawyer called my name, and we hugged and said hello, there was no blind-date awkwardness. No fumbles, no silences. We picked up right where we left off online, and chatted for two hours before we even ordered. Then we talked for an hour more. We discovered our connection extends to her mother, who grew up with a distant cousin of my father’s in the same small Iowa town where my great-grandfather was born and raised.
It took writers to teach me who writers are. The stereotypes do exist—competitive snobs who seem to find no joy in the writing community. I read about them once in a while, I hear stories about them. I’ve just never met one. Mostly, of course, writers are people of all types from all places, sharing with each other a love to tell stories.