I once called myself a writer. It was before college, before churning out academic papers like a ford assembly line, and before I understood what 'audience' really meant.
I would write short stories about far-away places, nonfiction pieces about my family, and I would journal daily - something I did for nearly a decade.
Then I had a traumatizing experience: my masters essay. The capstone project to completing my Masters degree, I wrote about Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
Or I tried to, at least.
The paper was a major flop - a total disaster that I take full responsibility for. Not only was the paper a stain on my hitherto decent resume of written papers, the actual experience of sitting through my committee's comments was, and still is, painful.
The factors that contributed to my major flop are numerous - but in the end, it came down to me: the writer. I passed my Masters examination that day, but not because of my paper I suspect, but from my prior work and activities within the department.
I haven't read that paper since that day.
I also stopped calling myself a writer after that.
Hell, I stopped being a writer after that.
I went on for nearly two years this way - distancing myself from something I once loved out of shame and embarrassment.
Then I came across Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and all of that changed.
Big Magic broke through the tough exterior I had grown out of self-preservation by showing me that I could grow from my failure; that I could even learn to love my failure, and appreciate what I learned from failing. Gilbert talked me through reclaiming my identity as a writer by reminding me that I don't need to ask permission to be a writer, or wait for an authority figure to deem me so. I am a writer because I write, and I say so.
Big Magic shook me up and out of my self-imposed exile from writerly life. It empowered me through Gilbert's own humility and awareness, and her ability to take something that I had put on a pedestal for so long, and hand it to me, unceremoniously, saying "here, write, you know you want to."
Since reading Big Magic (one I finished it the first time, I went right back around and re-read it again), I have become absorbed in my writing again. I'm working on a novel, sending letters to friends, and writing on this blog! I feel invigorated and confident, knowing I am writing for me - for my soul.
I think we all need to be reminded of this in our daily lives, not just specifically about writing, but about doing what we love and not waiting for permission or someone that we deem powerful or important enough to say it's ok to do so. If you love something, like performing on stage, or baking, or sewing, or the like, you should do it. Not for notoriety, not for fame, but for yourself - because it fuels your soul. We are all creative, capable, contemplative creatures - and we are all talented and unique in our own ways. Why should we wait to celebrate them, or hide them, or put them away, just because we may not be the next Pulitzer prize winner or haute couture designer? Even if our creations only exist for ourselves and our own piece of mind, should they not be allowed to flourish and come forth regardless?
Since writing again, I have felt an enormous release, and a burden I didn't know I was carrying, lifted. Instead of pain and embarrassment from what was a failed piece of writing, I feel invigorated and humble: ready to learn and grow from my mistakes.
I think I may even be ready to revisit that old masters essay - no longer my foe but my friendly reminder to do better, be better, and not allow anyone or anything to deter me from doing what I love and improving upon it.