When did you know you were a writer?
I am trying to recall the time I discovered that this was my calling. It is difficult to think of an exact period but I know that my writing practice began with reading. My parents used to take us to the library often as children. I remember checking out several books at a time and eagerly reading them in bed, under a coffee table, in my parents’ closet or some other cozy, enclosed space.
Not only did reading teach me sentence structure, punctuation, and vocabulary in an indirect way, it opened my mind to styles of writing; to the ways words could be written to evoke wonder, curiosity or delicious nervousness.
When I was around 5 years old, my parents bought my sister and I journals. They had locks on them and that was the coolest. I remember breaking my diary open sometime later because I had lost the key. I did not know then that I was a writer but the concept of keeping ones thoughts or daily activities in a book was introduced to me however casually at a young age.
It was a seed that stuck around in my soil. Years later, it began to bloom above the surface.
In junior high I started writing in the margins of my agenda . I liked playing with words. It was both energizing and calming to physically move my hand and write. And the words themselves were good company during a boring class. Writing felt good. stimulating. fun. And when I began to actually write about how I was feeling, it became therapeutic.
Did I know I was a writer then? No. We were still in the stage of having to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmatic ( and science) so that we could go to high school, decide what we wanted to be, and then proceed to university and then somehow live “successful” lives- whatever that looked like.
I didn’t know my success could have to do with my version of doodling- my writing.
So when did I know I was a writer? Maybe it was during my university year in Ghana when I took a creative writing class with Meri Nana-Ama Danquah and the late Kofi Awoonor. Of all my classes that year, creative writing was the one I took most seriously. I remember exchanging letters with Prof Awoonor after returning to Canada and him writing something like “I can tell you are a true writer. ”
I also remember while still in Ghana, Ms. Danquah telling me after class that, she doesn’t say this to people but she thinks I should be a writer. She thinks I can do this. She told me not to be afraid. “Don’t let other’s fears become your own” she said to me. I will never forget that. I had been making choices based on others’ fears or my own fear of not making the right choice for years.
One could stay that I was still afraid to claim that I was a writer except for on travel documents. I had different professional titles so often based on my contract work and writer was who I was underneath that.
So perhaps the question I can most easily answer is how? How did I or do I know that I’m a writer?
I know by how it has always felt for me. Writing has been therapy, mental stimulation, release and satisfaction whether anyone saw the finished product or not. But when I did begin to share through my first blog or poetry, I experience a level of connection, freedom, and a sense of being completely in the moment that was empowering to say the least.
Even when it has been a challenge, for instance, when I’ve stayed up all night to write uninspired school papers or when I’ve been rejected for grants for creative projects, I’ve never thought ” this isn’t for me”.
Nah, I’m willing to eat “sh*t sandwiches” for this craft .
(Watch this talk between Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo and you’ll learn what I mean by that).
I know I’m a writer by the support of other established writers who have told me that this is could be my thing. I have taken their words as affirmation and not as new information. Be careful not to let people, especially those you respect, tell you anything is your path and you believe them. You have to know something for yourself and let their words serve as affirmation or a confidence booster.
I know I’m a writer because when I share my writing, I get such humbling feedback that I can only thank God for giving me this gift and the breath, mind and fingers to work on it. I loved writing my column “Diaspora Diaries” and reading the comments from complete strangers beneath the articles.
Finally, I know I am a writer because it is the one of two things that I’ve been consistent about in this life ( the other is dance). I’ve tried volleyball, played instruments, wanted to be in a singing group and had other pastimes and desires,. I’ve been back and forth between cities and countries over the last eight ears so much that living anywhere for two years in a row has been an accomplishment.
Despite all moving, shaking, and shifting, writing is one of the few things in life I’ve stuck to and plan to stick to til the end.