So, I packed my writing gloves away and left my writing group — which is where I know Julie from. I’m also happy and proud to call her a friend.
I hope you’ll like what Julie has to say. 🙂
When Lou asked if I’d be interested in guest blogging here, my first thought was excitement. Of course, that joy was soon trampled by terror. Why would readers care what I have to say about writing? I’m just an aspiring author; none of them have any clue who I am.
Right about the time the self-doubt stopped screaming, I realized that maybe those worries, those weaknesses if you will, were actually blessings in disguise. Maybe since readers don’t know me, it’ll make me more approachable than writers with a bestseller or ten under their belt. Maybe they’ll see me as a kindred spirit rather than someone whose career is unattainable (because believe me, you too can be an aspiring author, all it takes is some imagination and a really thick skin).
One thing most writers can tell you is self-doubt is standard operating procedure. We write something and immediately question it. I’ve been known to instant message writer friends with lines just to make sure they are, indeed, funny. (I think I’m hilarious, and so does my eight-year-old. Other people I’m not so sure about.) For me, that self-doubt stems from some of my early writing experiences. And really, in order to understand my path as a writer, you need to understand that piece of my past.
When I was little (yes, we’re going back that far), my family and teachers all encouraged my creativity — especially my writing. In fact, a few months ago my mother gave me a box of old school stuff, and in it was a paper I’d written sometime around third grade that said I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I won all sorts of awards through the school district for my writing. With stars in my eyes, I began my first novel during sixth grade.
That was also just about the time that the encouragement tapered off. Creative writing took a backseat to other things once Junior High started. And by a couple years later, my family had it drilled into my brain that writing was a hobby, not a career path. I needed to get serious about my future, and they made sure I knew it.
Once high school started, my creative pursuits were limited to poetry. I could crank out a decent poem in under an hour – a realistic time frame for a hobby. All those brilliant story/novel ideas were swept under a rug, never to be heard from again. After all, I was serious about my future. The fact that I was suffering from depression didn’t matter.
I went off to college with visions of a degree in aerospace engineering and a NASA job in my future (yes, I like to aim high). Freshman year, my English professor added to my ever-increasing levels of self-doubt (I didn’t find out until later that she didn’t believe in giving As and was notorious for her beat-downs). My aerospace career suffered an early death too when I remembered how much I hated physics, and by sophomore year, I had changed my major. Of course, I was still serious about my future, so I finished college with a degree in chemistry and a minor in education. I traded in NASA to teach high school.
Through all those years, I battled depression. The turning point for me came in the form of a student named Amy. I’d assigned my class an extra credit book report. A lot of extra points were involved, so the project was appropriately large. Because of their frustration, I wrote a sample report. Amy read and “graded” my example based on the format I would use for theirs. When she handed me back the paper, a post-it note was stuck to the top asking me why I wasn’t a writer. The note made me smile, thinking back to my childhood dreams, but I was serious about my future, so the note got filed away to collect dust.
About a year later, I found myself halfway across the country, at a new school (where I hated working) and unexpectedly pregnant. While I had a tenuous handle on my depression, my husband knew how much I hated my job. We made the decision that I would stay at home after our son was born. The first year, I was too busy to do anything other than care for my boy. Then his personality started developing, and I took to daydreaming about his future.
One day it hit me out of the blue that I wanted to encourage whatever he chose to do in life. (Though, to be fair, the current “evil genius” plan isn’t getting my fullest support.) Not long after, I realized that if sitting on the floor playing with blocks constituted taking my life seriously, then damn it, so did writing.
I started toying with a story idea that had proven obstinate about being discarded. Self-doubt still lingered, but I felt tendrils of depression start to drift away. And for the first time in about fifteen years, I approached the blank page with that gut-clenching combination of excitement and terror. Just like I came to this one.