Twelve years ago I had a secret—I was a writer. I never ever dared to call myself a writer, like it was a sacred moniker I had to earn through blood, sweat and publication, but now I know better.
I think I’ve always been a secret writer. It started with stories running through my mind of people I don’t know and events that never happened, they’ve always been there, my constant companions. When I was a child even working on a math worksheet would become a story of numbers competing against each other in some math-Olympics, each number developing its own personality, motivations and challenges. This is probably why I was never very good at math.
Even back then I refused to believe I was the only daydreamer out there. No way was I the only one to run through scenes in my head like movies on a screen, or find tears in my eyes after reading a particularly beautiful sentence and dream of one day being the author of such a rare creation. As I went through high school and college I know I met others like me, but without matching tee shirts or secret handshakes I’m sure I passed them in the hall completely unaware of the worlds brewing in their brains.
Then I became a teacher and spent much of my career listening to my co-workers talk about how teaching creative writing scared them. They were unsure of how to teach a love writing when it was something they struggled to enjoy themselves. As I taught writing I found out that kids, unlike adults, love writing. The actual act might be difficult for some students and revisions tend to border on cruel and unusual punishment, but I’ve never seen a more lively creative process than when working with kids. Sometimes it’s funny to me that the first writer’s group I ever shared my work with was filled with nine and ten year old children.
I still remember the moment I decided to go from whispering the word “writer” to choosing to venture down a new, much more scary path. I was in my kitchen, chatting with my sister on-line. We were chatting about goals for the year and I wrote the words: “I think I’m going to work really hard to finish my novel.” I’m sure, positive actually, that I followed up that sentence with, “Not that I’ll try to publish it” but it was my first baby step in the right direction. I joined a local writer’s group and found some wonderful women who were a lot like me and were driven to create stories. They gave me a safe and encouraging place to share my writing. They gave advice freely and I took it in hungrily. That’s when I realized that I was right all along; there were other people like me out there. Soon I found online writers groups and found that when you find people who understand your passion and share it, that you’ve found a group of people who can relate to you in a way no one else can.
A few weeks ago I attended a writer’s conference called LDStorymakers. The theme of the conference was “Welcome to the Tribe.” I thought it was perfect. The first three definitions of a tribe are: 1- social division of people, 2-family and 3- group with something in common. At the conference the organizers reminded us that even though we are individual writers, we are also a group with something in common. We are also a social division of people. We are also family. When people talk about jumping into the literary waters for the first time or confide in me that they’ve been dabbling in them for a while, I’ve always gotten super excited and now I know why—at that moment I’m meeting a member of my extended family for the first time.
A few months ago I came upon a poem that spoke to my heart. It was written over 150 years ago by a doctor/poet named Oliver Wendell Holmes titled The Voiceless. You can read the whole poem here, but to summarize it is about how people go through life and some sing the song of their lives, share their music with others. But some go to their graves without ever letting anyone hear their song. The one line that strikes me the most reads:
“Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!”
My secret was my writing. It’s my song. I’m extremely lucky to have met others who love that same tune. But even if it’s not your particular taste in music, everyone needs a voice, needs dreams and goals. Your secret passion might be writing, but it might not, and that’s okay, but you do have a voice. The idea of it never being heard saddens me. So if you have a secret like I did, stop hiding. Believe me, it is thrilling to be able to talk about your dream with others and work to make it a reality. I refuse to let you sit and wait for “some day” or “maybe when …” Start today. Don’t let the music die with you, instead—sing!