When did I know I wanted to be a writer? I can trace it back to Mrs. Shea’s fourth grade class when she gave us a short story assignment. As I sat at my desk drafting the piece, first in pencil and then rewriting it in ink, I knew. As I read it aloud to my classmates, I knew. As I proudly beamed at the three red stars Mrs. Shea put at the top, I knew.
But it was more than simply knowing I wanted to be a writer. In that brief moment in Mrs. Shea's class, I was a writer. There was something magical about the connection — pen to paper, me to my audience, my audience to me. I was hooked. I wanted to do this, to be this, for the rest of my life.
Of course, that little girl grew up and the child's vision did as well. At some point in my twenties, my dream morphed into a more mature aspiration: landing an agent and a book deal. Simply writing stories for an audience was a nice sentiment, but those other two things? Well. An agent and a book deal would make me a real writer.
So off I went. After a detour in radio, I did some freelancing, started my own copywriting business, and wrote and wrote. My work appeared a few times in small places you’ve probably never heard of. I received very encouraging rejection letters, personalized and welcoming from agents and editors alike. I even won a short story award. But that big prize — an agent, a book deal — never happened. I'd hear about people going the self-publishing route, but I knew that wouldn't satisfy my needs. How could it? To me, self-publishing was a last ditch effort to get published when you probably weren't worthy of it to begin with. And so I plowed on, the dream still there, but growing a little dimmer with each passing year.
This past summer, I was re-reading one of my all-time favorite writing books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In the section on publishing, Lamott borrows a quote from the movie Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsled team where the coach says, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”
In essence, Lamott explained, “being enough” has to start from within. I’d lost sight of that, thinking instant validation would come with the agent and book deal. But the truth is, it wouldn’t. Validation had occurred years before in fourth grade when I quietly and without much fanfare realized I already was a writer.
At the same time I had this epiphany, I'd just bought a Nook and started hearing about the success many self-published writers, like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking, were experiencing, thanks to this new digital age and the ease of self-publishing platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. And so I began to think, "Well, why not self-publish my stories to Kindles and Nooks and put them directly in my readers' hands? I might not have an agent's blessing or a publishing house backing me, but I believe in my stories."
Okay, so even typing that sounds a little, well, presumptuous. And I have a feeling those damn doubt monkeys who whisper in my ear at night will always try to mess with my inner validation. But whenever they do (and whenever anyone else does), that's when I'll take a deep breath and remember fourth grade and the moment I discovered this truth (even if I didn't fully appreciate it at the time): whether I self publish, traditionally publish, or sky-write my words across the deep blue yonder, I already am a real writer.
Robyn Bradley is a Copy Queen by Day and Novelist Ninja by night. She’d love to connect with you on Facebook and you can learn more about her on her website.