Am I a Writer?

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A note from a university faculty member on my Creative Writing Fall 2001 portfolio.

A handwritten note from a teacher on a creative writing portfolio from Fall 2001.

“Your careful revision shows a high level of craftmanship in all genres…You really saw what to do to turn it into a good story.”

I am surprised to see this comment on the front of the writing portfolio I had created in college. I’m always fascinated by the strange feeling I get when I encounter something I should remember about my life. I have dreams often about having done something important that I’ve forgotten. I’ve dreamed about vision boards hung and big life plans typed up somewhere. When I wake up in the morning, the feeling that I have done these things is so strong that I start to look for them. So, when I discover that I have actually done something or been someone that I don’t remember, it makes me wonder if I really just dreamed it.

It feels odd now to think of myself in those terms – a writer. Though I stopped writing fiction many years ago, I have been a writer in some way for most of my career. That type of writing does not feel as if it should count though. What’s even more strange to me is how I look at what I am currently working on. I treat this book as if it is the first novel I have written, but it isn’t. Back in 2005, I took the story that garnered the teacher’s comment and turned it into a book. Reading it now, it was not a great book, but it exists.

In that same writing portfolio, there were several other pieces that I had no memory of ever writing. For some reason, finding this earlier collection of work makes me feel as if the story that I am currently working on is somehow less important or less special. It is as if my mind wants to hold onto the idea that I have become something new rather than finally giving into something I have always been.

There is a hopefulness in knowing that the other writing came from me too. Reading through the stories, I realized that I used to love these characters as much I do the ones that I live daily with now. The thought of clicking the save button for the last time on my current novel and never reading it again is hard for me to comprehend. I want to keep reading how he makes her happy, and how she is a force to be reckoned with. I want to keep reading what I have written with the kind of awe that only comes from not knowing what you are capable of. But the older stories are proof that I can say goodbye to one story and fall in love with another one. If I need any more evidence for this, I can find it in the pages of what I wrote this past year. Tucked into the details of a wall of photographs in one of the chapters is a nod of recognition to the first book. In another scene, a question about a friend’s brother is the thank you to yet another character I loved for many years. Though their stories will likely never be told, they live on in these small ways.

I know some day this teacher’s observation will come up again in my life. Just as it did last year and again this year, I hope it finds me struggling with fear about being a good writer. For it is the balance of this fear and hope that reminds me of who I have always been and propels me forward again.