Sure, I’ve been writing my whole life. Who hasn’t? School assignments, college applications, work emails. But, unlike most people, I really liked it. I was thrilled with any school assignment that involved writing. And it wasn’t just school. I spent hours of my young school years filling the pages of my diary (Yes, pink. With a lock. Because, so many important secrets in 4thgrade!). My cousin in California and I had an ongoing, almost-weekly, multi-page letter-writing exchange that kept us best pals through the years before email and cellphone (Isn’t it brave of me to admit I’m old enough to have been a sentient being in those dark times?). I was always the first to sign up at school to get a foreign pen-pal (Why? Dreams of meeting a foreign prince who would fall in love with me from my witty letters and pretty penmanship! Reality? Meeting other NOT-royal, letter-writing nerds like myself.) And I spent my free time (remember when that was a thing?) trying my hand at poetry, writing short stories, and dreaming up the plots to my future novels.
I loved it all! This was the time in my life when I confidently told everyone, “I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.”
I also read anything I could get my hands on. I read broadly and absorbed it all like a sponge. From Laura Ingalls Wilder to E.B. White, Agatha Christie to Robert Ludlum; Cather, Orwell, Dickinson, Hemingway, and Dickens. Gradually, I gained some maturity and a deeper appreciation for the words on the page. With that, I began to realize that my lengthy diary entries – as well articulated as they were! — about whether Freddie Bredemeyer would ever like me weren’t really stacking up to the work of the writers I was voraciously consuming now.
The thought: “Those are Writers! I can’t be a Writer. Writers are Good. And Famous!” began to seep into my brain and wear away my youthful confidence.
(Sadly, I wasn’t mature or aware enough to ponder just how those Writers I so esteemed had actually become Good and Famous. I wish I’d been there to tell young Beth, “It didn’t just happen, silly girl. It took work and persistence, even for them, and you can do that, too, you know.” But I wasn’t.)
In high school, college and grad school, I pursued academic subjects that allowed me to enjoy constantly reading and being surrounded by books and great ideas. (History and French majors, undergrad. Master’s in Library Science. Can’t ever accuse me of just going after the money, can you?)
I knew I wrote strong essays in school, and clear and informative reports in my professional life. I was good at writing. But the idea of being a “Writer”? Didn’t even cross my mind.
Then a few years ago (oh, and about 23 years down the road of post-grad school professional life) I was sitting at my dining room table one Sunday morning reading The New York Times’Style section and my life changed. I know that sounds overly-dramatic, but don’t you find life-changing decisions often come that way? Yes, there’s probably a bunch of thoughts percolating around in your brain pointing you in a direction, but what it feels like is: a new thought enters your brain, your perception suddenly shifts, and you just know that’s the answer. In fact, it’s what you’ve wanted all along! (This is not the only time I’ve had a life-changing revelation while reading the Style section of The New York Times. Public service announcement: proceed cautiously when you pick up that section.)
That Sunday I was reading the “Modern Love” column, like I always do. “Hmm,” I thought, “I could write something like that. Or better. Who wrote this?” Reading the byline, I saw the author “is a freelance writer.”
“What the hell’s a freelance writer?” I wondered. A bit of Googling later and, “Well. I could do that!”
Half a day or so of fleshing-out an idea for an article and identifying the magazine in which I wanted it to appear, and I was convinced this was something I could do. With a combination of a lot of naivete and some confidence — and a healthy dose of “what’s the worst that could happen?” — I sent out my first pitch to the editor. And she liked it! I worked really hard at it, loved the process, got it to her just how she wanted it. Once I saw that article in print, it was official. I was a writer!
Since then I’ve written more magazine and newspaper articles, blog posts, and marketing materials than I can count (and even one book).
So, am I a WRITER, writer? Well, no. I’m not Famous. And I’m smart enough to recognize I’m not Good like those writers I’ve loved all my life. But do I work like a dog at getting better? You bet.
Perhaps — more importantly — do I LOVE what I’m doing? Without a doubt!
I recently revamped my website and promoted the new look on social media. Soon after, I got this message from someone I haven’t seen or heard from in over 30 years: