When Andi asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I found myself at a loss. What could I possibly write about? After all, although I’ve dreamed about “becoming a writer” since I was a little girl, I’ve never quite considered myself to be a full-fledged author.
Most mornings, the idea of sitting down to write fills me with anxiety; I start feeling uncertain and ill at ease. I worry that I won’t have anything meaningful to say and that I won’t live up to my own expectations. While most of the books on writing note that it is normal to feel some measure of resistance before sitting down to write, a real writer wouldn’t feel nauseous every morning, would they?
I was lurking on a writer’s message board one morning, and a young woman asked how could she know whether or not she was meant to be a writer. She talked about the anxiety she felt every time she writes and how painful the process felt everyday. Her description gave me a mental picture of trying to type with concrete for fingers. Her process was agonizing, and it felt like she was constantly fighting her very nature.
The other folks on the board gave her, what seemed to me to be, common sense answers. The jist of which were, “If you hate it so much, then don’t do it!” But is it ever that simple for people who write? After all, if we all have some measure of resistance, anxiety, or even fear when we get ready to put our ideas on paper, is pleasure an adequate measure of whether or not we should consider ourselves a writer?
Writing is never an easy task for me, but the young woman’s post gave me an opportunity to think about my own process. What I realized, and what I later said to her, is that I write because of how I feel once my fingers start moving, that moment after the anxious breath, and before the end of the next sentence. That in between space where I suddenly know what I want to say and how I want to say it is what fills me with a deep sense of pleasure and purpose. So even when I struggle to figure out how to begin the following sentence or how to end the essay, those seconds of inspiration remind me of why I fight to sit down and write everyday. More than that, at the conclusion of whatever I’ve put on the page, the end of the chapter, the epilogue of the book, whatever, I feel a deep sense of joy that isn’t replicated in any area of my life. In some ways, it is the requirement that I face my fear every morning that makes the endings that much sweeter.
In the end, although I still hesitate to call myself a writer in public, secretly, the joy writing brings me lets me know who I am regardless of my job description.
Alexandra Moffett-Bateau is a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She is currently in residence at the University of Virginia as a Carter G. Woodson Fellow.