My therapist is moving out of state so I’m crowdsourcing my therapy. My lack of motivation and inertia constantly conflicting with my desire to be a writer is a recurring theme in nearly all of my sessions. I feel I’m not a real writer, introducing myself with conditions — I’m a writer who doesn’t write. I’m a writer who writes for a day job but not what I really want to write. I’m a writer who isn’t published in mainstream media or by traditional publishers. Adding conditions negates owning it.
Jeff Goins quotes his friend in this article, and his friend could have been talking to me: “…you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just have to write.” Additional advice I’ve received from the universe: If you want to be something, then name it. Yet I still can’t fully own that I am a writer. I don’t feel as if I deserve that title quite yet.
To accept that I am a writer means that I have to write.
Not writing prevents me from knowing if I am a good writer or not. (I’m not fishing for compliments. Honest!) What if I find out I am a horrible writer and I don’t have a plan B after 30 years of wanting to be a writer? Better not to know if I’ll fail than to risk failing and feel like I’ve misplaced my dream all this time. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking.
I haven’t read SARK or Robert Fulghum or Dave Barry in a very long time. They inspired me. My walls were covered with posters of SARK‘s vibrant words and Robert Fulghum’s essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I had my favorite Dave Barry weekly columns tucked into the pages of his books. I wanted to write like them. I had laminated clippings from “serious journalists” like Bob Greene on my walls, too.* I was going to be a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune Magazine.
What happened to that optimistic, young writer?
I was rejected by one of the best journalism schools in the country. I wasn’t excited about being accepted into my second and third choice universities; I was devastated that I didn’t get into my first choice — the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I have been holding on to that rejection and failure for the last 23 years. I was a Journalism Cherub, a participant in their National High School Institute program. At the time, we were told that 90 percent of the Cherubs who apply to Northwestern get accepted as an undergrad. I was part of the special 10 percent who didn’t. It didn’t matter their overall acceptance rate is less than 15 percent; I wasn’t good enough to be a Medill-trained writer. Since I couldn’t be at Medill, I couldn’t be a writer and obviously needed a more practical career. I chose public relations, not even knowing what it really was. I believe the dad who died in Flowers in the Attic was a PR guy.
This is the first time I’ve admitted out loud that I’ve let that Northwestern rejection hold me back. I’ve used that as an excuse in the back of my mind for so long. If they didn’t think I was good enough, then I’m not good enough. So I gave up. Though the writer in me keeps nagging to come out.
Logically I know I control what I do, not a rejection letter. If I had friends in a similar situation, I would tell them to prove the naysayers wrong. Become a great writer despite the rejection. I’m notorious of spouting do as I say and not as I do advice and wisdom.
I’ve put my obsession with that rejection out there; I can let go and finally move on. Right?
What regret or grudge or out of your control circumstance has held you back?
*Total side note: I just Googled Bob Greene to make sure I remembered the spelling correctly. I thought he had died, and I was so sad to hear that when it allegedly happened in my head. Turns out, he is alive and still writing. He was dismissed from the Trib in 2002. The things one can learn from Google and Wikipedia!