I wrote my first book at my grandma's house. I don't know how old I was — definitely under 10 — but it was a thrilling tale of adventure about three cats who escape their abusive owner by traveling to a beautiful tropical island to live on their own. I illustrated it, bound it with scotch tape, and even wrote myself a back-cover blurb. Middle school saw me getting special permission to skip recess some days and work on my epic fantasy novel instead — a Tamora Pierce-inspired book about a lowly peasant girl who has to undertake an all-important magical adventure. And in high school, I started participating in NaNoWriMo, where I wrote 50,000 word novels every November, about everything from time travel to magical epidemics to killer nightmares. Once I even decided that 50,000 words was too easy, and completed 100,000 words instead. I entered college believing writing was something I would always have to do on the side — not a "real job," a lesson I learned from my loving but pragmatic scientist father. But my creative writing professor assured me that I had what it took to be a writer — yes, as a real job — and that little nudge was all I needed. I majored in English with a Writing emphasis, and applied to MFA fiction programs upon graduating.
...and proceeded to not get into any of them.
I spent the next three years telling myself that I could write after work and on weekends, and become a young adult author just like I'd always planned. I had nightmares that my professors came into the Starbucks where I worked and refused to speak to me, they were so embarrassed that I'd failed so profoundly. Of course, the key to my plan was to actually write, and I wasn't doing any of that. Since wiping the floor with NaNoWriMo all through high school, my successes on that front had dropped steadily in college, and when I started NaNoWriMo this year (my tenth year!) I realized that I'd now won NaNoWriMo less than half of the years I'd attempted it.
I lectured myself. I threatened myself. I told myself, Ginny, if you can't do it this year, you're not really a writer. I felt like I wasn't trying hard enough. After all, if this was what I wanted, wouldn't I make time for it?
It was in the third week of NaNoWriMo 2015 that it finally sunk in — what my brain had been trying to tell me for years. I didn't want it anymore. I had other things I'd rather spend my time on. Other creative, enjoyable things that I was passionate about, like cosplay, and making videos. Of course, this was existential crisis fodder. I'd literally always wanted to be a writer. If I wasn't that, then what was I?
I have this great best friend, Jen. She's 90% my opposite, which makes us a fantastic pair. A lot of the time, she's out of reach — on a boat in Antarctica, for example, taking ice cores, or driving around a volcano in Hawaii, measuring smoke — but this time, luckily, she was in cell service range. I texted her, admitting for the first time that I didn't think I was a writer anymore. Her response was a lightbulb moment for me.
It has been a part of you for a long time. I know that's got to hurt to disentangle. But being alive and human is cool because we get to decide what and who we are. You could wake up tomorrow morning and decide to be a scuba diver and it wouldn't be any less right.
It sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it's hard to be objective when you feel like you're losing your identity, and her words readjusted my perspective exactly the way I needed. I was a writer, but now I'm not. Maybe I'll be a writer again in the future. I don't have to beat myself up for not wanting the same things I wanted before.
So today, on the last day of my tenth NaNoWriMo, I am not typing my 50,000th word. This is my last novel-writing November — for now, at least. And I'm okay with that.