What It Means to Be a Writer

Books of Flowers and a Writing Brush, Ryūryūkyo Shinsai. 19th Century, Japan. Polychrome woodblock print (surimono); ink and color on paper   ,    8” x 7 ¼”, print. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Books of Flowers and a Writing Brush, Ryūryūkyo Shinsai. 19th Century, Japan. Polychrome woodblock print (surimono); ink and color on paper, 8” x 7 ¼”, print. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Through reading my writing, one can tell that I have an affinity for romanticizing life. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read too many gothic novels, but I seem to have developed a subconscious tendency to amplify simple concepts using flowery descriptions. This is not how I actually perceive the world, but rather how I make sense of the convoluted reality that exists within it.

For as long as I can recall, when asked what I wanted to do or be, I have cited writing as my future profession of choice. When I was young, that didn’t mean much more than a person who kept a diary and wrote short stories to be proudly recited at family gatherings. As I began to plan my future, I realized that the concept of writing did not necessarily coincide with the concept of financial stability. In order to make myself feel better, I attempted to glamorize the lifestyle of artistic poverty. Throughout high school, the phrase “penniless writer” often came to me, picaresque with an image of peeling wallpaper, baguettes and Parisian summers.

Over the years, I was often advised to choose another profession — any other profession — just so long as it wasn’t writing. The prospect that I may have no future prospects worried the people who cared about me. In college, I sat in countless academic advising meetings exploring the possibility of changing my major to this or that, but I could never bring myself to veer too far from writing. My passion for writing would not leave me, no matter what else I tried to envision myself doing with my future. I accepted that I was immovable on that point and carried on telling people of my future plans. I came to expect and tolerate the condescension that inevitably emphasized the words “Good luck with that.”

I continued reading more books than I could possibly count, each of which shaped how I developed my writing style. But the more I read, the more I doubted that I could ever achieve what my favorite authors had. I began to realize that being a writer is far more than what it appears to the outside world.

Writing is far from easy for me. It is perhaps the most difficult thing I do in my life, and I find that it grows even more difficult as the impending responsibilities of adulthood intervene. But a part of me never relinquishes the desire to keep writing, despite the chaos of life. Every day that I sit down with a pen and paper, I hope to do better. I hope to be better.

While I often struggle with what it means to me to be a writer, I have recently happened upon a few realities that I am slowly teaching myself to accept, overcome, or understand. I have chosen to share them below for anyone who might benefit from reading them:

I will never be 100% satisfied.

I have always been my own worst critic, mercilessly censuring in my thoughts, and have often found that I tend to hate everything I write after I’ve written it. Whether it’s a blog post, an article for another publication, or simply a college essay, I am unforgiving in my appraisal.

While this isn’t an ideal habit, I understand that if I were completely satisfied in my writing, I would remain stagnant. The drive to achieve more, to write with more expertise, will only ever push me nearer to my goals. After all, dissatisfaction is often what drives success.

However, throughout my career, I hope to carve out moments to be proud of what I have achieved. That is partly why I’ve created this website, so that I, along with those who read this, can look back on how far I’ve come as a writer.

My thoughts—and often emotions—will be exposed.

Like many individuals, I use writing to get through the rougher patches of life. When in need of healing, I write to repair myself. Seeing my disorganized internal emotions appear on physical paper somehow makes those thoughts and feelings less of a part of me. They are suddenly independent and inanimate, hanging suspended in an atmosphere outside of myself so that I no longer have to wrestle with the anxiety they produce inside of me.

The words that result from pain, confusion, or anger are not always accurate portrayals of an author's beliefs and are certainly not always enduring, but are most commonly a fleeting crisis of heart. Sometimes once the feelings are on paper and a sufficient amount of time has passed, I no longer relate to that piece of writing, though I still can’t help but wonder what it says about my character, thoughts, and beliefs to those interpreting it.

This profession is a form of permanence.

For all the pieces that I second-guess, the questions are the same: Do I leave it out in the world or find a way to bury it? Do I leave my name by the title, understanding the importance of vulnerability in the creative process, or do I press delete on that step in my own growth as a writer? Should I be ashamed by what I once wrote or accept it as a part of me?

One of the primary facets of writing professionally that absolutely terrifies me is the permanence—the irrevocable declaration of my thoughts and beliefs published on platforms that reach innumerable amounts of people. The same question always haunts me before finalizing a piece of writing for publication or posting a new blog: What if I regret this?

The best answer I can give myself or others is to be brave enough to regret nothing. All you can do is your best and try to learn from what you write and how others receive it.

I will suffer through a creative crisis (or many).

Writers’ block: the very term is difficult to type. For those who have never experienced it, it is unbearably disheartening. To me, writing is as much a form of sustenance as it is a form of expression. When I am unable to write, I am lost. I run my fingers across a blank page, but my imagination is too weighed down by the goings-on of daily life that I simply have no more words left by the end of the day.

I’ve grown too familiar with this in the past few months. The best course of action I’ve taken to get past it is to simply write it out. Even if it’s not something worth publishing, I dedicate a certain amount of time every day to writing a journal entry, a poem, even a grocery list, just so long as my pen is moving. I find that reading a book or two also helps to keep my mind stimulated so that when I’m ready to write, I have some inspiration. The key is to never abandon your passion long enough to forget why you do it in the first place.

I will encounter critics.

As many fans as a writer or artist may have, they will arguably have just as many critics, if not more. The best advice I have ever received about how to deal with critics is to consider who they are and where they're coming from. Internet critics, sometimes "trolls," are typically unworthy of attention or care. They make a pastime of anonymously commenting cruelties, and their criticism is rarely constructive.

Some critiques may be of value to you, if they prove to better your work. Trust your judgment when it comes to each critic, and look for those who can provide specific and helpful comments. While it may be difficult to remain professional in your reaction to their criticism, it is worth the effort. There are certain voices worth listening to, while others should only ever serve as white noise in the background of your success.

Something I have to consistently keep in mind is that it is impossible to make everyone like you or enjoy your writing. Anything you write will be, to those who don’t know better, an irrefutable reflection of who you are, no matter your growth or change of opinion and no matter when it was written. If you let the fear of regret or criticism hinder you from doing what you love and growing in the pursuit of it, you will never become the individual you strive to be.

All of those things are worth it.

Writing offers me the second chance I so often wish I had—when I fail in reality, I try again in prose. It has helped me grow as an individual far more than any other use of my time. It forces me to define what I truly believe and feel so that I’m able to witness my own growth. It has inspired others to get to know me after relating to something I’ve written, and that has led to irreplaceable friendships. All of the reservations I have about this profession are justified in a single call to me from across a room: “I read your blog post! It’s exactly what I needed!”

I don’t know where it will take me, and sometimes I wonder what that means for my future. But no matter what happens from day to day, I make an effort to remember who I am and what my passions are, and I keep writing to become the person I want to be. Even by writing this, somehow, I'm that much closer.