Turning Whine Into Gold
For ten years, as a dance critic, I failed to own the power of these words. For me writing was a guilty pleasure, like eating potato chips, only I could make a little money while doing it.
But then I had a visit from my uncle, an English teacher and unpublished novelist, who shared his perception that I had the perfect life—living on a farm, renovating my home just the way I wanted it, raising my children, and writing dance criticism.
I scoffed at the last, echoing the rest of my family’s prevailing sentiment: “But I make so little money.” My uncle responded, “What we need in this world isn’t money. What we need is influence.” I have never forgotten those words.
Shortly thereafter I started journaling—in other words, writing for free, with words no one else would ever see. Those were the words that made me feel real.
I know you are a writer, too, and here’s why.
You felt an electric surge when you read the opening words of this post. If you scanned that sentence too quickly, go back and read it aloud. Yeah, it’s that jolt.
You may write to entertain, yes, but more importantly you do so to empty your mind of the noise that commands most people’s attention. You’ll dig deeper to unearth the richer material many will miss.
On the days you don’t write (note irony) you are fashioning Facebook posts, honing the perfect 140, or organizing notes for an upcoming talk. While doing daily tasks you are daydreaming or pondering. You care what your loved ones are saying but must often ask them to repeat, because something they said sent your mind onto a tangent. Your text messages are never shorter than three paragraphs and your emails become the basis of blog posts.
You whoop aloud when, after fifteen minutes of effort, you realize that replacing “expect” with “anticipate” will make all the difference in your sentence. Communication matters to you, so very much it sometimes hurts.
During any spare moment you read anything that’s sitting around—cereal boxes, shampoo ingredients, your kid’s homework. And then, just for fun, you read.
You are curious. Others may wait out their dentist appointments with eyes closed; you’ll leave knowing the names of the instruments, what they’re for, and something personal about the one whose hands were just in your mouth. Maybe you even wanted to be a dentist, but had too many other interests to limit yourself. Your stories allow you the satisfaction of having lived more than one life.
Even if your love is writing fiction, truth and honesty are of the utmost importance. You probably had a trauma or difficulty earlier in life that you chewed on for a long time, and writing helped you make sense of it. This made you feel like an outsider and you studied the behavior of others to figure out why.
That time when you threw your back out and pain kept you pinned to the couch, you asked someone to fetch a pad and paper so you could record how you felt. You took notes during the final waning days of your mother’s life so you wouldn’t forget what was funny and beautiful, even in these dire circumstances. You needed proof that while aging and dying are inevitable, they need not equal helplessness and despair.
You are a gambler, and hope that your work will meet with monetary reward. But at the end of your life, it will be more important to you to say you’ve done something meaningful with your time here on earth than to have left behind the money you made from doing so.
Know this, and stay strong in it: being a writer is your identity. This is powerful medicine for when inevitable writing challenges arise.
Your identity is what no agent, publisher, critic, or Barnes and Noble buyer can take away from you. It is the expression of the god in you—“I am a writer” is your version of the way the great “I am” self-identified to Moses at the burning bush on Mount Horab. Writing is the way you deepen your observations and apply perspective; it is how you will change the world. By outlasting your corporeal presence, your words will bestow a measure of immortality.
You are a writer. What will you do with this fearsome gift?
Did you see yourself in this post? What other attributes reinforce your sense of self as a writer? In what ways are you different from the non-writers you know? Please share in the comments!
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.