In corporate life, I attended countless workshops—enough to know that the first agenda item for the beginning class of my writing workshop last week would be for each attendee to offer an introduction, plus a snippet about his or her writing background. It says something, I suppose, that I wasn’t worried about my dearth of skills as a writer, or exposing what I don’t know about the techniques required to develop compelling fiction. What concerned me was coming up with an "elevator speech" (and just for the record, I despise the term, but admit it works) that describes how I got to where I am today.
The workshop is taking place in a meeting room at our public library that also serves as a gallery for local artists. Sitting in a horseshoe, surrounded by oil paintings of music celebrities, John Lennon, Lady Gaga and an open mouthed Adam Lambert, the folks across from me launched into summaries while I twiddled with my pencil. For a moment, I dropped into my old corporate “be prepared” persona and contemplated jotting a note I could refer to, before deciding it would be too obvious. Instead I shifted in my seat.
Across from me, a housewife with three young kids who’d taken courses with our leader previously, admitted that she wasn’t currently writing anything, but hoped this class would jog her to. A grey haired man in a blue wool sweater explained that his layoff from his position as an English teacher motivated him to take time to write. A soft-voiced woman in a tweed blazer looked down as she confessed that she’d never written before, but had stories in her head she wanted tell. Beside her, another attendee giggled as she shared that she wrote technical abstracts for her job that did nothing to inspire her.
One by one the people in that room portrayed themselves in steady voices, while I crossed and uncrossed my legs and tapped my feet under the table. When the meticulously groomed woman beside me explained that she’d kept journals for years and was convinced there were stories she could mine from there, my armpits prickled.
Then it was my turn--and it always comes down to this.
Who am I?
I had to clear my throat before I could force out that I’d been laid of from a company after 23 years, started writing the next day, and had raced to the library to sign up for the workshop as soon it appeared on the schedule last fall because of a desire to learn to dig deeper, to challenge myself further, to stop “surface writing.” As the leader moved on, I peered down at the pages in front of me, visualizing the “D” I’d have given myself on that intro.
Over the last two years, I've dared to call myself a writer. Yet I failed to describe the suffocating need that swamps me like a full-moon tide, the phrases that pop and bounce between my ears, the cavernous hole that opens below me when I contemplate not creating through words.
It could have been worse though. The last person to speak admitted that she hadn’t been able to tell her husband she was coming.
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Liza, I think you did fine! Just wait until you start reading what you've written - that feeling will shine through then.
First of all, in my opinion-and i am right lol, you ARE a writer. I have been through the same "my name is...." routine at our writers meedting. It is hard to explain my motivation and each seems to have their own story..
I think your second to last paragraph was perfect! And that is the second time I've heard "elevator speech" in a week, and never before then!
You're owning your writing, m'dear. There's no shame in it.
Also, your online community understands the words that burn. We feel it too.
I think you have way more credentials than you give yourself credit for! Just the same, I think in such a group it is best to err on the side of modesty. People can 'say' who they are, but it's what they do--and in this case, write--that will define them.
You are going to have the time of your life :)!
I think you may be being too hard on yourself. I'm impressed that you're taking the class at all- I would never be able to open myself up like that! Good for you!!
Every writer is at his or her own stage of the journey of becoming a writer. Some may appear farther ahead on the trail, some further behind. But all of us are learning. Each new idea, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, story is a new beginning, a new point from which to leap off into the abyss of self-doubt and into the unknown.
Good for you! Those groups are never easy. As Alex said wait to the first read -- I think I ate my tongue that night.
Didn't you feel for the woman who couldn't tel her husband? How sad.
You ARE a writer. And secondly, it is new beginnings that make the world go around. Why else would God gives us a new day everyday?
An introduction, well done or not well done (and your, by the way, was NOT the latter) does not decide if we are writers. It's in your heart, and your head.
Your written voice is quite moving. I find I can just picture right where you are in time and space. Even when I'm not particularly involved in the subject matter, I can't stop reading. Yes, indeed, you are already a writer. Can't wait to see what you have to offer with more honing. Loved what you had to say about the hole opening below you when you contemplate not creating through words. I couldn't agree with you more. Up until I started blogging, most of my words lived only in my head, but boy do they live!
You silly girl -- how can you say you're not a writer. You've brought me to tears on more than several occasions when you've written about 'home'. The water, the leaves, the lighthouses, the sounds of the snow.
Janet Reid once said, when you finish a piece of writing (and you have) go into the bathroom, look in a mirror and say to yourself, I am a writer. Out loud.
It's the suffocating need we all feel that makes us writers. We're the only breed of person who does this.
Okay, one: Few of us ever feel adequate enough to call ourselves writers. I think that's why we struggle so hard to find agents and to publish--because we're all striving for validation, for someone else to give us worth as writers, to make that writer label stick. So when the moment comes that we have to stand and explain why we do it, well, I think we all choke a little. It takes guts to declare yourself a writer. To explain that it's more than just desire that drives us to do it, but need. Like you said, "a suffocating need that swamps me like a full-moon tide..." We all take different paths to that writer label, but ultimately all deep-in-the-heart writers are driven by that need. It's kind of scary how bad we have to do this thing, even harder yet to stand in front of people and declare ourselves something we're not quite sure we are. But I can tell you that you are a writer. Hello: "...the cavernous hole that opens below me when I contemplate not creating through words." You are a writer through and through and through. You KNOW this. Just have to embrace it.
And two: you are amazing. Thank you so much for the shoutout. Your support means so much to me! I think I'm still in that fish out of water stage, still thinking, "Me? For real?" But thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me.
Well done for joining the workshop, and you are absolutely a writer!! Keep going, it's a journey and we all have a beginning right?
I empathize. It's so difficult to speak up and say what's in our heads. We're afraid we'll come off sounding like a goofball (when I say we, I mean me). Personally, I think you did an excellent job.
And many Yays for Valdez!
To me, words are just words until they're put together as an expression of the gift that a writer possesses. You my dear, have that gift. Don't ever doubt it.
Your hesitation during the workshop is not a reflection on what you aren't. It only shows that you've embraced the student that lives inside all of us.
Louisa May Alcott said: "I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."
So, sail on my dear Liza!
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