By Sally Stap
The words, “I am a writer,” are not easily said aloud the first time. We don’t know exactly when we’ve stepped over the threshold between being and wanting to be. We don’t feel worthy of a title that is nebulous. Our fingers and minds feel loose and clumsy as we venture into the world of words. We deny being a writer even though we find ourselves capturing images of children’s laughter in words, daydreaming about how to uniquely describe azure skies blotted with marshmallow clouds, or missing parts of conversations by attempting to remember a catchy phrase or thought before it flees. Like many others, I was “not” a writer. I dabbled. I wrote essays. I mused poetically. I studied skillful writing styles and voices as I read books.
After years of closet dabbling, I attended my first writers’ conference several years ago. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but somehow I found, registered, and showed up. I nervously gathered registration information, added it to my carefully prepared notes, and headed to the introductory session. I sat in a back seat toward the side of the auditorium. The last thing I wanted was to be noticed or drawn into conversation that would expose that I was a “fraud” in a room full of writers.
I looked around the room at a couple hundred people. Were they all writers? Some appeared studious in plaid, button down shirts. Others, in flowing and colorful garb, seemed to be at a reunion with other flowing writers, “Hey, I didn’t know you were coming.” Or “I loved your book.” The one that really got me was “I loved your latest book!” Oh boy, what did I get myself into?
The first session began, and the speaker immediately addressed my fear. I learned that we are writers simply by writing, not by anything else. For two days, I went to sessions and soaked up information about “the biz” – agents, publishers, editors, plots, and tedious rework. Despite hearing repeatedly how difficult writing is, I was energized and determined.
Not long after, a writing group started in Kalamazoo and I attended the first meeting. I waited anxiously as my writing was read aloud, followed by silence, and then uplifting encouragement. With prodding as I plodded, I published my first book and individual chapters in three anthologies. The camaraderie of writers fueled my writing. I’ve learned that while the task itself is quite lonely, the result of a project pulls together people with common experiences, causes, and interests. Writing provides encouragement, connection, laughter, and escape.
I’m now okay with saying “I am a writer.” I receive an emotional gift each time I learn that I’ve touched another with my words. I was bitten by a writing bug and am seeking treatment through words. My prognosis is that many letters will be arranged creatively on an ongoing basis.