For years, I wrote in secret. Scribbled words in notebooks, and then graduating to neatly stacked typed pages – all words that no one ever saw but me. If someone came to the door, I would hide my stash quickly under the couch. All of those words in the dark dusty shadow of the couch, just waiting to be pulled back out. It took me years before I told anyone about the writing, and even after that, I never really wanted to share my work. Even when I was writing novels. And collecting rejection slips.
Today I received an email from a friend. Although this isn’t her name, in the interest of confidentiality, let’s call her Peggy. She had incredibly kind things to say about my novel, Life is But a Dream. The kind of things that every writer dreams of reading about her work. And then Peggy wrote something else – I’m a voracious reader and have always wanted to write. I’ve got a few drafts started…
I was absolutely shocked. I had no idea that she had writing aspirations! How many of us are out there – writing in silence and harboring dreams of writing that novel? For some of us, writing is so personal, so tied to our hearts, that just telling others that you are “writing” makes us vulnerable. If you tell someone that you are writing, then they might want to read what you have written. And then where will you be? All exposed and raw and vulnerable. Better to write in silence and avoid the risk.
For the first time, last year when I filed my taxes I listed “writer” as my occupation. A year or so ago I had to go into my local bank and have a contract notarized for ghostwriting a non-fiction book. The woman who notarized the document was so excited for me, and I found myself squirming under her gaze. She told me that she had always dreamed of writing children books. I told her she should. And then I squirmed some more. Because there I was, sitting in a bank and having a contract signed that was actual proof that I get paid to write. I felt…humbled. Who am I to be so blessed? Who am I to have my dreams come true?
I still stumble on the word “writer” when people ask me my occupation. It is so silly, but somehow I feel like I am bragging, and I find it difficult to even say the word – despite the fact that I dreamed of being able to say it for many many years.
After signing that contract and starting to ghostwrite that book, at one point I was rewriting the book after receiving some suggestions from the author and the editor. Excitedly, I told my son, “I’m working with an editor and everything now– just like a real writer.”
He said, “That’s great, Mom.” And then he paused before speaking again. “But you’ve got one thing wrong.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You’ve always been a writer.”
First I cried. And then I grabbed a pen and wrote down his words. Because I loved them. And because I am a writer.
And you are a writer too, Peggy. Pick up your pen.
Cheryl Shireman is the bestselling author of several novels, including Broken Resolutions, the Life is But a Dream series, and the Cooper Moon series. She is also the author of ten books for toddlers including the eight Let’s Learn About series focusing on different animals and I Love You When: For Girls and I Love You When: For Boys.