It still hasn’t sunk in yet. On Friday, I accepted an offer to publish my first book. Normally I find it impossible not to betray how I am feeling—the high lilt or slow lull in my voice says it all—but this time, my tone reflected little emotion.
“Give me a second. I am really excited, I swear…it just doesn’t seem real yet. You know, when you think about something for so long and want it and work towards it, and then you actually get it, it doesn’t seem real, like this isn’t happening to you,” I said to my agent.
In a sense, it all happened pretty fast: five months ago, I found an agent, three weeks ago my submissions package went out to publishers, and three days ago my book found a home.
But as all of you writers out there know, none of this happened quickly. It’s been a lifetime of writing—of needing to, wanting to, having to write…A lifetime of journals and diary entries, of stories and articles, of high school competitions and college op-eds, of high-intensity internships and relaxed writing workshops, of literary criticisms and news articles…A lifetime of sojourns to coffee shops and libraries, of late nights and early mornings, of days spent alone at my computer, of revising and reworking and refining, of knowing that the times when I feel most alive, when things connect and spark and I have energy, are when I am writing.
As clichéd as it may sound, I’ve wanted to “be a writer” for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know what that meant in those days, beyond that it was the standard prediction all my grammar school English teachers made for me, and that I couldn’t help thinking of Jo in Little Women whenever they made such comments.
Twenty years later, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly “being a writer” means.
What I did know then (and recognize still) is that words made sense to me then when so many other things in my life didn’t, and words defined me in ways I desperately needed. When I was growing up, my classmates had sports banquets and track meets and health; I had writing awards and journalism conferences and scribbled entries into all the journals I kept. I had writing, so my illnesses could never totally overwhelm how I thought of myself, even during the really difficult times.
For all the projects and roles and jobs I now have, for however complicated I might be tempted to think my life is, my true ambition, my deep down desire and hope, the thing that drives me, terrifies me, and humbles me, is quite simple: I want to write books.
It is the easiest statement I can write, and yet it is the one I am so hesitant to vocalize, half-believing if I show how much I want it, it will remain elusive.
I often stumble when people ask me what I do: “I teach writing classes” or “I freelance” or “I’m working on several projects” or “I do editorial work.” Only once have I replied “I am a writer,” and even though I spoke the words, I didn’t own them. I feigned confidence but felt fraudulent.
So what does it take to embrace that identity, at what point is it possible to say “I am a writer” and believe that the elusive dream is a genuine reality?
I know that I am taking a first step towards that scary, powerful, humbling thing I want. I know that in a life filled with compromises, accommodations, and complications, this feeling, this exhilaration, is pure and unfettered. I know that I have much work left to do, that this place is the only the beginning, but I also know it is where I need to be.