On Becoming a Writer

7 Apr

The movie Sister Act 2 has had a profound impact on my life.  When I was young, I wanted desperately to join a choir led by Whoopi Goldberg and practiced trying to hit that high note from O Happy Day.

When I got a little older, Sister Mary Clarence’s sassy words of wisdom were still impacting me.  Does anyone else remember this quote?

I went to my mother who gave me this book called Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say: I want to be a writer, please read my stuff. And Rilke says to this guy, don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing, then you’re a writer. I’m gonna say the same thing to you. If you wake up in the morning and you can’t think of anything but singing first, then you’re supposed to be a singer girl.

I wrote my first book when I was six.  It was a picture book about me and my best friend Squanto (of Pilgrim/Indian Thanksgiving fame).  Squanto and I ran through the forest and shot guns and were chased by “woofs”.  My parents thought it was the most brilliant book ever penned, and I felt encouraged to keep writing.  I wrote stories about solving mysteries (during my Boxcar Children and later Nancy Drew days).  I wrote stories about exploring ancient ruins in Egypt (during my The Egypt Game and Indiana Jones days).  I wrote fan-fiction (really, really terrible fan fiction), and later I wrote for a magazine…and a newspaper…and a blog.  Did all that make me a writer?  Or was I a waitress/retail associate/admin/Sunday School teacher who also wrote?’

My father is one of my heroes, and he was one of the people who really propelled me to want to become a writer writer (and not an analyst who also writers).  Funnily enough, he paraphrased the Sister Act 2 quote about writing, and told me if that’s what I thought about and did all the time, then that’s what I should do.

So, I did.  I dusted off a novel I’d been tinkering around with for years, and I started polishing.  And polishing.  And polishing.

In less than a year, I finished a novel, signed with an agent, and am about to sign with a publisher.   It’s surreal to say the least, but I also still hesitate to identify myself as a writer.

I think my personal definition of a writer is someone who can make a living by their words.  But, then this small part of me argues that even if I end up making zero money and have to refund my advance…I still wrote a novel.  (Or two or three…)  Am I still a writer then?

How would you guys define someone who is a writer?  Can anyone be a writer?  Or are there talent levels involved?

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