When do you become a “writer?” When you write your first word? First sentence? First draft? When you start a blog or a column? When you start getting paid for what you write?
I’ve always thought of myself as a “writer.” Recently I’ve begun to question why I want that identity. Writing is painful for me. I don’t do it every day. I don’t even do it every week. I’ll have an idea and start to sketch it out, only to grasp for words that are suddenly no longer there, or were never available to me in the first place. I’ll get distracted by the most trivial things and forget what I was trying to say. I’ll often realize later that I was distracting myself on purpose.
Because writing, for me, is terrifying. It’s my purest vulnerability. It’s all risk, all the time. Yes, on the surface it’s about acceptance or rejection. I’m an incorrigible narcissist with what I think I know and what I think I can do with words. But I’ve come to realize that writing is the only way I’ve ever known how to ask to be loved. Everything I’ve ever written that was not a school or work assignment or scholarly publication has been a love letter to anyone who would listen. I write when I am irresistibly compelled to write, when a thought-feeling takes hold of me and presses my head into the outside world, commanding me to scream some kind of truth into existence. It’s not always eloquent or well-argued, or even totally original, but it’s always a piece of my soul, wrenched, almost against my will, from my heart and gifted to the world. I want to be loved. I want to feel like I’m not alone, that there are others who see what I see, who feel what I feel. Writing for us is like Noah releasing a dove across the infinite waters, desperately searching for dry land, for survivors, for those who will give their love to us in return.
It sounds like a hopeless romance, but it’s often a graveyard. Our inner selves pour into our writing in a way that leaves us helpless and unmoored. Our writing comes to define us in a way that is all encompassing and total, connected and subjected to every scrap of minutiae in our lives. I don’t know, perhaps for some people this the joy of living. It’s much more serious for me. My writing often comes out of anguish, and it often feels like a sickness for which I am scouring my language, searching for a cure. It’s euphoric, depressing, chaotic, all at the same time. Writing is salvation, and salvation intimately and completely knows damnation.