In my creative writing courses, I wave my magic pencil over my students and declare them to be writers—at least for the duration of the semester. After that, I say, it’s up to them to take over the spell. They generally giggle and roll their eyes (they’re college students after all), but I think it gives many of them license to believe it. The magic pencil has surprising power.
What does it take to call yourself a writer? As a child, I wrote stories and transformed them into books, because I knew that’s where stories belonged. I wrote for my friends, and I wrote a novel in high school as well. I knew writing was what I was always meant to do, but early on I somehow got the message that it was “no way to make a living,” and therefore, not a career option.
In too many cultures now, the arts are treated as disposable luxuries, instead of the essential activities that they are. I grew up in a place where the schools were producing better autoworkers for tomorrow; there was not a great deal of interest in cultivating the arts, unless you could somehow turn them into filthy lucre. Generally we were taught to dream small and feel satisfied if we reached those mundane heights: a secure job, a nice suburban house, and a happy marriage.
The pressure affects women in particular; we are under more scrutiny, something that I was oblivious to as a child, when I lived in a state of tranquility and continuous creativity. It may have been my forced induction into charm school at our local department store (yes, really) that first alerted me to my position as a female. When I was younger, I was told I could do anything that my brothers could do, but at adolescence, that changed. The message I received seemed to be that I was falling short in my role as a girl, and I was being observed and judged by others—a phenomenon of which I had been ignorant until this point.
After being the superstar of the sprawling, unlimited universe inside my head, it brought me up short to find that I was simply a bit player in someone else’s story; I was ugly, suspect, and disapproved of. I didn’t have to wait until seventeen to learn that harsh truth. Despite all the lip service to individuality, American adolescent culture is all about conformity (and it’s not very different elsewhere, as I’ve seen from my travels). I laughed too loud, I wore clothes that my mother had made, and worst of all, I was “too smart” and never tried to hide it.
It’s not an uncommon story: the confident girl crushed in her teen years by doubt and self-consciousness. I think I was lucky to be oblivious to those social pressures for longer than many, which allowed me to develop a core of creativity, if nothing else. So I created written works in secret for my friends. I wrote stories, plays, a zine, and eventually a novel (one of my oldest friends claims to still have the manuscript, and occasionally threatens to resurrect it). For me, this was a subterranean success before a select crowd; sadly, it remained that way for far too long.
I wrote a lot, but I hid it all away in a drawer. Occasionally, I might try to press the words upon someone, but at the first sign of rejection, my words went back in the drawer. I wrote letters to friends, loving missives to partners or would-be partners, and began to find more confidence in the written word than in spoken language.
If you write and consign it to a drawer, stop right now. Submit it somewhere. Get used to rejection (we all experience it) but don’t silence your voice. It may be the one for which the world hungers.
Eventually, I began writing and submitting the material. I received loads of rejections, some acceptances, and even a prize. My few pitiful credits gradually grew and multiplied, and eventually, exploded. Now I can’t keep up with all the things I want to write, and just about all of it gets published eventually.
Yet I did not call myself “a writer” when I filled out forms or met people who inevitably asked, “What do you do?” I felt as if I might be challenged when I applied for my most recent passport seven years ago and put down “writer” as my profession, though now I fill out landing cards in various countries without a second thought: a “writer” is what I am.
The magic pencil – I needed it too. I was waving it over my students before I thought to wave it over myself. I had already dedicated my mind to the process, but I hadn’t shown the outward signs of it. I still filled in forms with “student,” “administrator,” or “professor,” but I finally realized that, although I am paid for those positions, I had them because I was a writer. In most magical traditions, you gain power from knowing the true name of someone or something. What powerful magic has come from naming myself “writer”!
Forget about the rationalists who deny magic; it’s absolutely necessary. We are Prosperos, conjuring within our magic circles the one true art: creating something out of nothing, out of the words, pictures, and sounds in our heads. It’s a rich legacy. Put on your cloak, pull out your magic pencil and cast your circle. You are a writer.
K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, Fulbrighter, uberskiver, medievalist, humorist, flâneuse, techno-shamanka, Broad Universe social media maven, and Pirate Pub Captain who is currently anchored in Galway, Ireland.
Follow Kate on Twitter: @katelaity.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Growing a Thick Skin by K. A. Laity - Women Writers, Women Books | November 27, 2013
- The Magic Pencil « K. A. Laity | July 10, 2012