When Did You Know You Were a Writer?

If you’ve been writing a long time, as I have, you probably don’t remember what it was like not to hear voices in your head. But I don’t remember any of them telling me to write anything down. Most of the time they have been having conversations or making soliloquies without any regard for me at all. When I was younger, I sometimes wondered if I had one of those fillings where you pulled in radio stations to hear in your head. But the conversations or monologues would fade out and – until I started writing comedy skits – there were never any commercials.

For the longest time, I did nothing about these conversations. I grew up with books when my mother was in the house, but when she left, so did the books. My father never subscribed to magazines (I don’t think that nudist colony one my sister found in his closet one time really counts), and there were no libraries within walking distance. We only got the Sunday paper and I never had the nerve to ask my dad if I could read it after him. Ours was not a free and easy household, and it would never have occurred to me to ask for anything, although I might have been pleasantly surprised if I had.

I had started reading at 3, but between the ages of 5 and 10 had very little in the way of material that didn’t come on the back of a cereal box or from a school textbook. I had no idea that I might have a facility for words – I didn’t talk much in school – until we began to write essays later on. My writing career might have started then, but I didn’t know there were such things as notebooks or pads of paper. No one suggested it to me and like a little tin doll, I waited for someone to wind me up and get me going. Except for some rather peculiar exceptions, I was a very passive child, waiting patiently to be told what I was allowed or not allowed to do with my life. I was like an elephant who had been trained to stay tethered and had been tethered for so long that a mere piece of string would serve to keep me in place. I was fortunate that my life did not stay that way.

When did I know I was a writer? I never did. I still do not. The closest I have come is accepting that writing and I – after a rather rocky start and some bumpy side roads – are inseparable.

Some part of me feels that I am still in the process of becoming, which isn’t something that I mind. As with art – another thing I came to later than I might have – I have learned to value the journey towards the completion of a project more than the completion itself.

Now I no longer wonder whether I have anything to say, but whether what I have to say is worth saying aloud.