Dear Mr. Wendig,
You asked your readers to write a thousand words on why we write. My honest answer is, “I don’t really know.” Truly. Like most writers, I’ve written off and on ever since I could pick up a pencil and make words come out of it.
I couldn’t tell you why I feel compelled to sit down and write every day. What I do know is that since I made the commitment to myself to put my butt in the chair every single day and do something creative, something has shifted. Profoundly.
The only mentors I’ve had are the authors who bare their souls about their process, and what it takes to be a writer. There was no parental encouragement, no teachers taking me under their wings, nothing of that sort. I would write, then I would set it aside. Then I would try again.
Two years ago, I got laid off. My job was eliminated based on a salesperson’s promise to someone who had no idea what I did. At the time, I thought my path was photography, and an advocacy blog for young women in the form of letters to my nieces.
The photography wasn’t selling, and it was hard to find my writing voice in an overcrowded field of advocates. None of the resumes I sent out were getting responses. I was running out of money and had cashed in everything I could.
On top of this, a very dear friend of over 30 years, who was more family to me than anything, was dying from terminal cancer. I had no energy to do anything except recognize I needed to break out of the loop I was in, even while I was perpetuating the loop.
Books have always been my solace. In a tumultuous childhood, reading was the one thing I could do guaranteed not to get me in trouble. A few months ago, a book fell into my life which literally changed my life. A cliche I wish I could avoid. Anne Lamott‘s, bird by bird, contained an essay about “shitty first drafts.”
All my life I’d heard and read the worn out axiom, “A writer writes.” And the advice to just put one word after another, never mind the self-critic. I would nod in agreement and then get caught up with the internal naysayer who told me what I was writing was silly and stupid; that no one would ever want to read it, not even me.
But Anne Lamott said it in a way that got under my skin. “Wait, wait, wait,” I thought. “You mean… you’re seriously telling me to just write for the joy of it? To write because I want to, every day, with no thought as to who might be reading it? That if I don’t like it I can toss it and no one will ever know?” This was like the magic incantation I’d been waiting for.
I can’t tell you why it was this book and this advice which finally took root. Many writing mentors I’d never met had been saying the very same thing everywhere I looked. But somehow, Anne Lamott is the one who got through.
Nothing else was working. I was still unemployed with no assets, surviving only through the good graces of my dead friend’s family. I was supremely miserable and couldn’t see a way out. Photography seemed like a broken relationship I couldn’t restart.
What the hell? I’d commit to butt in chair every day doing something creative. It didn’t matter for how long, or how many words. It just mattered that every damned day, no matter my mood, I would be creative. No word counts. Just me and the computer.
When I didn’t know what to write about, I wrote about the books I read. Then I started writing other things. Little 500 word things, developed because I wanted the discipline of writing something I liked within 500 words.
Around July 4th, I posted a temper tantrum on Facebook. There was an interview that I had absolutely nailed, but someone fumbled the communication between hiring manager, company HR and the temp agency. I lost the job for no other reason than someone misconstrued something I said and would not believe otherwise. When the recruiter told me, “I’m sorry we lost this job for you,” I didn’t know what to do.
A long-time friend in Australia read my tantrum and contacted me via Skype. We had a really long talk in which I cried and told her everything. And then she said the words I’d been waiting for someone to say to me, “I’ll be your mentor.”
She completely understood where I was coming from and that I recognized I needed to take small steps towards my goal of making money being creative. Or rather, the goal of paying the bills with something I loved instead of just another office job. Only I didn’t know what those steps were or how to take them.
“You are a writer,” she said. “You write so well, this is what you should be doing. Seriously. I’ll help.” After two years of praying for a mentor, here she was. Not quite a month later, I’ve established a reasonable publishing schedule and have a calendar reminding me of what’s in progress. I’m happier than I’ve been in some time.
I’m not any less broke or worried about paying rent and bills. But I’m writing every single day, even the ones I don’t feel like writing on. And my mentor is just a Skype away. And it’s led to my first paid writing job, writing blog posts for her because her business is successful enough that she doesn’t have time and can afford to hire someone to do it for her.
Of all the ways to make money, writing wasn’t one I’d considered. I was just writing for me. I was compelled to write, it makes me happy.
Maybe the reason I write is that simple, it makes me happy.