Standing around at Los Angeles parties, dressing up to the nines with my cat eye liner perfectly in place, people ask what I do. Generally, I tell them that I am a writer. It comes in many different forms: content creator, communications professional, creative thinker, whatnot. But somehow, my writing skill comes up and settles in front and center.
When the words come out of my mouth, people say a variety of things. There’s everything from excitement (“Oh, wow, that’s so cool you can do that!”) to one-upping (“You know, I write too”) that comes into play. No matter what is said, I take them all with a smile and eventually walk away, not thinking twice about what have done for a living most of my career, let alone in my creative life.
It has been my personal expression as well as my moneymaker, whether detailing creative ideas for plays, short stories and novels or simply working on this blog. People love my work, yet sometimes I don’t understand quite why, as I can’t explain exactly how I do it. Ideas just come, words flow. It just happens.
My friend Stacy at one point said this to me, which is the closest I’m going to get to an answer: “When you write, you tell a story. And no matter what it is, you take us with you. You put us right there, in the middle of it, and you make us feel everything.”
Being a writer sounds amazing to people, and sometimes it is. Being able to translate thought and put it down on paper, with my fingers flying across the keys, is nothing short of incredible. It’s childlike and adult all at the same time — or, as one of my favorite Eminem lines says, putting “crayons to chaos.”
It began small, with me writing little plays as a child on an Apple II GS at nine years old — a strange feat for a girl who up until she was three couldn’t use language at all. I wanted to act on stage, though. I wanted to stand up and sing. I wanted to be a star, and writing would get me there.
But when I was 13, everything changed. Being groped in the hallway, and after freaking out when I saw him, I got punished by my teacher. The mouths parroted around me in school how I was a bad kid, a troublemaker, for years after that time. I would never be that star, I was too loud and opinionated. That was until an English teacher recognized in me this powerful gift of writing.
She gave me a stunning diamond, although it was in a place where diamonds were worthless. I was in a school where math and science were valued higher, and any signs of creative expansion were shunned in favor of “college preparedness.” Yet as the years passed, it was my gift of writing that saved me. I began to build muscles for poetry, essay writing, scripts, speeches and articles. In college, my talents were regularly recognized and published. I even picked up a mentor in one of my college professors.
Then came my ex. We started dating about three months before we finished college. He fancied himself a reader and an editor, not being very good at either. He told me he would love to see what I wrote, and naturally, with him being my boyfriend, I wanted to share it.
Sitting at the keys as my flicking fingers flying at a rapid pace, he would regularly make fun of how I would stick out my tongue while typing (a habit that I still have). If I ever showed him what I wrote, he would get so hung up on the wording and so-called punctuation problems he would never recognize the accomplishment on the page. He’d claim it was good, but every little detail was scrutinized, every bit questioned. It didn’t help.
Then the real world came into play, and my first job as a reporter came. About two months after I started, my boss pulled me into the side room with its big window overlooking the mountains and tell me how I was the worst writer he had ever seen, how I would have never kept my job if it wasn’t for him. This would happen almost every day. Sitting there during my performance review, my eyes darted across the page as every box was checked below average; my writing was below average. I wasn’t good enough. To this day, I’m still scared to death of office performance reviews.
After a while, I gave up on the designs of being a writer and snuck behind the editor’s desk. Although occasionally my head would peak out from behind it to write, whether through blogging or writing occasional articles, it was safer there, away from people saying my skills were subpar. But as the recession hit, editors were the first thing to go, and I was cut.
A miracle then happened, although it meant driving cross country with a guy who wasn’t my ex. My father, before I left, encouraged me to write about what I saw on the road. When it came time for my fingers to fly across the keys of my new laptop, my fear set in, commanding over the keys. I was unemployed and obviously I wasn’t good enough as a writer or an editor to make it.
After a few days and multiple states later, it seemed to fade away as much as California had, and my hands found their home again. It wasn’t an easy road, and the format of what I was writing turned out strange, as my direct memory wasn’t very strong and the timeline seemed to work better this way. But it gelled; it was an artistic piece, something I hadn’t done in a while.
In December, after my driving partner came back to California, he read what I wrote. Sitting across from me at a wooden table of a café in Orange, the smile on his face as he scrolled down on my laptop softened his typically hard features. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with no critique or judgment. Just pure love.
As he gave me back my computer, he gave me back my gift, and I began working studiously. No one could take it away again, not even my ex, who I left a year later. My writing gave me clarity to understand where I was, and being able to use it freely gave me the strength to leave.
As time went on and my hand was dealt with the ramifications of leaving my marriage, my fingers began flying faster. My writing became better away from someone who was constantly criticizing it. I wrote practically every day on a personal level, and then became an editor where I was writing professionally.
And yet there was something growing uneasy in me. I could see it in the companies that I was becoming affiliated with, how they didn’t want to hire a writer. Instead of permanent positions, contracts were offered. I became disposable when someone on the team would think, “Well, I can write! And she makes it look so easy! What do I need this person for?” There was a certain amount instability my professional life, and it was weighing on me with every job I took, especially being single.
Monday came around, and I was back to work as a content writer after an amazing self-help weekend. During the workday, I was being pushed to write, and my paws were getting tired on the little hamster wheel the bosses were sending me up to keep pushing forward with quotas. They would scream don’t talk, don’t make jokes. By the end of the day after my long commute, I’d crawl into bed tired.
I wanted to write a blog about that life-changing weekend, talk about how amazing it was that, for the first time in three and a half years, I was no longer feeling like damaged goods from being a divorcee. That life had put me in the right place and my heart was singing the songs of living in the present. That I had stood up for myself and was possibly going to start a new chapter in my life. How there was this great hope for my future.
Yet there I was sitting at my computer. The white page was blank, and there was nothing in me to give. Writing all day and being forced to stare a computer screen for someone else made me ache for human faces and voices, so much so that Netflix and phone calls were the best options. As my body laid back in bed, crying from the exhaustion, I realized what this was: This was pure burnout, the great destruction of myself. And it took away the joy that came with my words.
In all the years that my ears heard that writing was my greatest gift, I never thought about what I wanted, about applying my other assets: Social skills, networking, building relationships, determination, managing a team, quality assurance and control — all these skills I had accumulated over years of working and just being. They were powerful and profound, and were just as special as the writing and needed an outlet too. And it was time to rethink my path.
The other day, I put up a Facebook status about my friend Robyn who I had dinner with. You think it would be simple, but it made me see so much and it was great being with her, and with all my friends throughout that day.
When I wrote it, she sent me the sweetest text message talking about my writing gift alongside my courage and my bravery throughout my life. And in her own words, I realized what my writing and words meant: Being a writer wasn’t just the fact that they were words on a page. They were me, my very core on a canvas. Each part of my universe and my thinking would find a way on the pages, both inside and outside of me to create a lovely symphony. Every blank document was new, and I would smother it with my paints, my beloved words, using my fingers as the brushes.
Being a writer is more than just words. Anyone can pick up a pen, but what are you going to put into it? Are you going to just jot some words down and pray that someone notices, or is your full heart going to give it everything it’s got?
If I was going to be the writer, every part of my being had to come into play to make a happier life. After all, how was I going to see the world if I could barely see past myself?