I think that when you
break out of the idea
that you have to be
a certain kind of writer,
you can actually be
the writer you're
supposed to be.
For weeks I've been mulling these words from a friend.
Writing came naturally, and at an early age. I churned out the neighborhood newspaper from my own mimeograph (a Christmas gift, age 10). The high school paper saved my life. The college paper honed my skills. An internship expanded my vision.
All along, I imagined a future as a journalist, covering hard news and uncovering injustice.
But while my friends were starting careers at the hard-hitting dailies — the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News — my first job took me to a small town far from anything I knew. Instead of breaking news and fighting for truth, I was writing obituaries, attending city council meetings, and taking photos of the latest Eagle Scout.
In short, I wasn't the hard news reporter I thought I should be.
Instead I was immersed in the mundane, and drawn to the offbeat and ordinary: the 100-year old fiddle player, the woman who saved a historical church from wreckage, a young family rebuilding from a fire. As natural as breathing, I was drawn to people, to their simple stories. But it took me years to feel good about it, to feel that what came naturally held any value.
Later, when I left newspapers for nonprofits — promoting good grassroots organizations — I liked the work but still worried it wasn't "substantial." I wasn't a journalist.
Ten years ago, when poems bubbled, it was all over. I could barely look my news colleagues in the eye. What kind of journalist writes poems, for god's sake?
In an essay about faith, Andrew Cooper writes, "My failure to accomplish or attain any of what I had hoped I would, I think, is the thing that has most enriched my practice."
For years I struggled to be a "real journalist," and discounted my writing and reporting as not serious enough. But now, I see that I've explored and enjoyed more terrain that I ever imagined I would in my original, and very narrow, definition of a "real writer."
After all these years, I think now I was always the writer I was supposed to be.
Are you the writer you were supposed to be? What did you imagine, and what have you learned along the way?