Being a writer is not about how many people have read your work. It is not about getting an agent who will take you on as a client (or, for that matter, who will respond to your repeated contacts). It is not even about being published. If you have passion for writing and you’ve ever put a pen to paper, then you’re already a writer.
All those other things are nice, of course. There could be writers out there who don’t dream about being on the New York Times bestsellers list, but I haven’t met them yet. Being published in twenty-seven different languages, selling tens of millions of copies, and seeing your work transformed into movies starring Hollywood’s A-list celebrities would all be really cool. But nobody expects that of you right out of the gate, and you shouldn’t either.
I have been a voracious reader all my life, and I’ve always dreamed of being a published writer. Note the word “published” in there. That’s where the glamour comes from, isn’t it? Holding a book in your hand with your name on the front and your head shot on the back? That’s what I dreamed of. I didn’t stay up at night thinking about the actual writing process, which is weird, because that’s really where my passion was.
And looking back, I realize that in my own way I’ve been a writer most of my life. Even as a kid I wrote stories, mostly just for fun. Whenever a writing assignment came up in class I’d jump on it.
I remember in fifth grade we were directed to read a book and write a story about ourselves set inside the book’s world. It was a very creative assignment, actually. I chose “The Indian in the Cupboard.” The story, if memory serves, was supposed to be a minimum of five pages, typed and double-spaced. Mine was thirty-something. I’ve searched and unfortunately cannot find a copy of it anywhere.
I’ve always been a writer, but I wasn’t confident enough to call myself one, which is sad. I was shy about it. I didn’t dare share that passion with friends or family. I didn’t attend writing seminars. I didn’t take writing courses in college.
I thought I had to have an agent, or be published, before I could call myself a writer. I expected way too much out of myself, much as I imagine so many others out there do too. I thought that because I didn’t have my name on a cover, I wasn’t really a writer.
It took actually getting my name on a cover to realize how superficial that was. I recently published my first book, a work of poetry titled If It Still Has a Head, It Isn’t Quite Dead. I’ll probably never forget the moment when I first held a copy of that book in my hands. Wow. It was overwhelming. But after that moment passed, I realized something I should have known all along.
Books don’t make writers. Writers make books. Not having a book yet does not mean you’re not a writer. It just means you’re a writer who hasn’t made a book yet. I didn’t pick up that book and become a writer. I just picked up a book.
I’ve wanted to write all my life, but I didn’t pursue it until very recently, thanks in large part to encouragement from my wife. I should add, I didn’t even open up to her about my desire to write until long after I should have.
Why was I so afraid?
I don’t know. I suppose I was afraid of being judged, afraid of failure, afraid of all the things anybody might be afraid of before doing something new. That was probably natural for me. It was also really stupid! I put off doing something I loved, and for what? Fear?
I didn’t have the courage to share with my friends and family what I wanted to be until after I had that book in my hands. Can you believe that? I was publishing a book, and I didn’t tell anyone. It was among the most exciting things I have done in my entire life, and I didn’t tell anyone. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, and if you are in a similar place to where I was a year ago, don’t let it take you that long either.
Write, dammit. Set up a blog. Write poetry (it worked for me, which believe me, still boggles my mind). Write short stories. Post them online for all to see. Email them to anyone you think might read them. Solicit everyone and their mom for feedback. Grow.
In the process you’ll build a fan base as well, so that once you finally do have that book in your hands, you won’t be starting from scratch.
I was afraid. I can’t go back and change that, but perhaps I can help some readers out there who have similar fears overcome theirs faster than it took me to overcome mine.
Harrison is a very proud first time author. He invites readers to follow him on Twitter @Harrison314 and to visit his website: www.harrisonbradlow.com. His book, If It Still Has a Head, It Isn’t Quite Dead: A book of poetry on zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls, and other generally scary monster-type creatures, is available online from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com, among other outlets. Poetry excerpts from the book are available at his website as well.