In 2007, I started writing in a vocational sort of way, and I say that because I’ve always written. Of course, as a young girl I kept a diary—my first a suede purple notebook that had a little gold lock on the front. When I grew up a little, the diary turned into a journal. By the time I graduated college, I started collecting these little notebooks from independent bookstores and art supply stores and gift shops in quaint towns, and I now probably have fifty in a drawer waiting to be devirginized. In school, if a writing contest was announced, I entered it. If a writing assignment was given, I wrote more than the minimum required word count.
But, in 2007, I took my first grown-up writing class: personal essay and memoir at Rice University. I was working there as an editorial associate for a psychology journal and one of the perks was a free course a semester. As soon as my boss approved, I was in. Well, actually, I had to audition first, and that included an interview with Marsha Recknagel, the memoirist who taught the class and eventually became one of the greatest mentors I’ve ever known.
I wrote essay after essay in response to the prompts she gave us, one of them being about identity. That’s when I wrote the essay that planted a seed that maybe I had a story to tell. When I got my master’s degree in liberal studies three years later, I wrote a 250-page memoir about that topic and set about trying to get an agent. This went nowhere, but my writing picked up a little. I’ve had some essays published, a few in actual anthologies, and last year I decided to start my memoir over again. Then I got pregnant, then I had a baby, then I started freelancing. And, well, when I picked up my pen (aka, turned on my computer and opened the file) and realized I hadn’t written since last September, I almost couldn’t face it. The idea of so much distraction from writing, the blank page a representation of some sort of guard keeping me from telling my story. I had no idea what to do, as if I’d never written a word before.
I did what I always advise people to do when faced with writers block: write. Anything. Just put some words down and eventually you’ll replace those words with better words and eventually you won’t understand how you made anything happen at all. Writing is so abstract, this material that flows through the mind and ears and fingertips in a way that makes no sense. But it makes me feel so good, so I keep on doing it. So I wrote, feeling like I was walking through swampy water. Soon, I felt like I could write all night and 1500 words flew on the screen before I could know what had happened.