Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Writing Life

The other day, I did something I try to avoid: I jumped into one of those silly Facebook games. This one had me soliciting words to describe me starting with the letter "A." I would have been happy to receive complimentary but generic terms like "awesome." Instead, to my great surprise, I earned words like "author," "astute" and "articulate" (three times).

Why was I taken aback? Because this writer thing is still relatively new to me; I still don't think of myself as an "author." I only started 10 years ago, after I got laid off from my last magazine editing job. Prior to that, I'd spent 25 years behind the scenes, sans byline, first as a copy editor and then an editor.

As much as I loved working with words, I lacked the confidence to put my own work out there. During college newspaper internships, it became clear that my natural strength was in editing, not daily reporting. Instead, I respected writers even as I pushed them. ("This needs rephrasing, it isn't clear." "Where's that story? I need it now.")

As much as I preferred staying relatively anonymous while working for great national publications, I did get a lot of pleasure from writing particularly good display. I've had the luck of working with some very smart, hilariously creative headline writers with whom I engaged in a competitive camaraderie; I'd flush with pride when I came up with something that made them laugh.

But ask me to stare at a blank screen and write and I'd freeze–at least until I entered back into the job market and learned no one was interested in hiring editors. I had to accept this brave new online world, where it's all about providing content. Luckily for me, a friend was willing to give me a chance writing a humor blog for Seventh Generation about my learning curve as I attempted to green my family. People started telling me I had a strong voice, though I still didn't believe it.

But I kept going, realizing I had observations on just about everything. Like so many others with something to say, Facebook became my watercooler.

Then I started writing for the Child Mind Institute, where I've often struggled with the process but have been proud of the results, focusing on topics that mean a great deal to me. I've been lucky to have skillful editors–and I'm not just saying that in case they happen to stumble across this space. I find everything fascinating, which leads to some massive word counts. I need a good editor! I've also been thrilled to find support from expected, and wonderfully unexpected, corners.

And now I've taken the ultimate leap, getting personal on my own blog. I look back and see I was always a writer, I just didn't think of it that way. My cousins and I got a great belly laugh when we discovered my diary. The day the Vietnam War ended, my cynical 13-year-old self wrote, "I'll believe it when I see it." My log of my summer camp's road trip to Colorado led to me write an essay decades later that ended up in an anthology of St. Louis Jewish writers. (Somewhere, my mother is still kvelling.)

The challenges are great: Aside from my own near-constant writer's block, the struggle to get paid what one is worth, let alone paid at all, is well-documented. But now that the door is open, there's been no closing it. I have ideas for articles, for books, for songs.

All I need is the time. And discipline. But hey, at least I've written my fourth blog. I wasn't sure I'd get that far.

To infinity and beyond!


  1. What a gracefully written post! I'm delighted you've made the leap.

    1. Thanks, Liane! I owe you big time, starting with your head's up and edit on that camp piece.

  2. uh, that was me smiling... I don't get all of this new-fangled commenting stuff nowadays... ange