If you're not an established writer (and often even then), you've probably endured stretches of grave doubt. These are miserable periods when nothing you write seems promising, and you've started to wonder whether you're wasting time on scribbles that will never see the light of day. Yet, it's precisely those desperate times which should prove to you that you're a writer.
In 2007, I tried to become a writer. It was all planned out: one year, one laptop, and a free room in my parent’s house. Whenever the day’s writing went well, I’d go to sleep full of hope. The next morning, I’d rush over to my laptop and reread the previous day’s work. It was never worth a damn.
The stories of struggling writers were a great comfort at the time. Raymond Carver used to write all night, after completing his janitorial duties at Mercy Hospital. Stephen King supplemented his income by washing sheets at a laundromat, then went home to write in the laundry closet of his trailer.
Financially speaking, Junot Diaz was luckier. He managed to dedicate five years to writing. In all that time, nothing he wrote was worth saving. “It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel [he] had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself.”
All I wanted was a sign of some great work revealing itself. All I got from that year was a list of embarrassing computer files. I’d had my chance, a shot most writers dream of, and I figured the results were in – I wasn’t a writer.
When Junot Diaz reached a similar low point, he came to a different realization.
“In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”
Writers are writers because they can’t give up. Even if nothing they write seems worthwhile, they need to keep recording, investigating, jumping into their own world. No matter how tired they are or how quixotic the pursuit may seem, they continue writing.
I didn’t realize until long after my writing year that 2007 didn’t mark my failure as a writer. It was the subsequent years, the years I happily spent editing, without any inclination to write, that showed I wasn’t a writer.
If nothing can deter you from putting words to paper, not fatigue or financial distress, or even the sinking desperation you feel when you reread your work, I congratulate you. You’re a writer. The pleasure you get from putting words to paper is so intense, it’s all you need to keep going.