The Paradox of Writing

Yesterday, I signed up for a writing class and learned something about myself that was far more intriguing than the class.

On the day of the class, I woke up anxious. From the moment I got out of bed, I had to be doing something. I organized our medicine cabinet and the linen closet. I put together a pile of clothes for GoodWill. 10:30 finally came and I left the house. Once outside the house, I checked the bus schedule five or six times. (Somehow fearing that I would be late, even with leaving 2 hours earlier than necessary). I had to stop in a neighborhood coffee shop to get change for the bus. I couldn’t sit still and enjoy my tea and donut. I continued to check the bus schedule, leaving at T minus 6 minutes for the 30 sec walk across the street.

Suffice to say, I was freaking out. But my fear did not become clear to me until later that day.

My first clue was an exercise in the writing class. We had to interview a partner. My entire body rebelled at the thought. “I’m not an interviewer. I’m an engineer that just wants to research stuff and write about it.” Unsurprisingly, the interview was actually pretty fun. I enjoyed learning about my partner’s experiences and sharing my own. However, it stuck with me that I was so repelled at the initial thought.

My second clue was my thoughts on networking. I was impressed by the law partner who wanted to cram writing into her busy schedule. I wanted to follow up with the kindergarten teacher who had written a fast-flowing and entertaining narrative. I even got the business card of the naturalist that was looking to do some writing in her retirement. Looking back, I discovered that I did not want to talk to anyone who was a professional writer.

Odd? I thought so.

Upon reflection, I figured out that I am terrified of “being a writer.” To me, “being a writer” evokes images of a scruffy guy in a cafe, staring at a blank screen, silently begging for words to materialize. I think of the starving artist, barely able to get by unless supported by family or friends. I imagine constant rejection, by publishers and editors. Being that sort of person is terrifying to me.

Some of this is true; some is a complete stereotype.

The paradox is… I have always “been a writer” in the typical sense. I filled endless journals with my teenage confusion and angst-y poetry. In college, I took enough courses in writing to get a degree in Professional Writing. Even at my previous job, I happily wrote responses for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and white papers for conferences. By any normal definition, I am a writer. I even got paid for writing those RFPs and white papers, which would get me close to being a “professional writer.”

But, when people ask me what I’m doing while unemployed, I evade the idea of “being a writer.” I reply with “I”m think about writing more.” I often throw in some stuff about it being analytical writing, not that freelance stuff. Because I don’t want to be that guy in the cafe, begging words to appear.

Yet, here I am – making words appear (and secretly wishing I were in a cafe).

By the end of this unemployment adventure, I’m hoping that I can add “I’m a writer” to the list of what I do. And I want to be proud and confident when I say it.

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