So this is the thing: at what point are you a writer?
I distinctly remember the moment that I learnt to read. The word was `donkey' and it was written on the back of a blue envelope. I have no idea how old I was (I certainly wasn't at school!), but I do remember the magic of those letters suddenly having a meaning. The jumble became `donkey' and I was smitten. Words! I have loved them ever since.
I began writing poetry when I was about 7. They were cringe-worthy, rhyming numbers about swans and such and I had my first taste of criticism when an adult in my life `shared' my work, much to the hilarity of the assembled company. I'm sure my adult self would have giggled just as much at the self-conscious wordiness of my youthful musings - but I hope I would have been kinder, because this leads me to the awful fear that every writer feels: am I good enough? Will the people that read my words find them laughable? If I call myself a writer, will the world scoff? I know I am not alone in this - have a look at John Matthew Fox on Bookfox https://thejohnfox.com/. In his newsletter (writamins), he details the incredulity he endured when starting out, much younger and braver than me.
When I was 10 or so, I discovered a well-worn edition of Baynham's Elocution on my grandmother's bookshelf. An odd assortment of prose and poetry, the aim was (and presumably still is) to encourage proper speaking through exposure to intellectual texts. In amongst much stodge (and many bits that I still enjoy) was the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. I realised that poetry was more than words - it carried emotion, it spoke beyond time and place. I now wrote to try to tap into that magic.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
School was good for writing. It was possible to be good and not draw too much attention to oneself. And then I wrote and wrote as an adult, privately documenting my world while `being' something else: admin officer, salesperson, journalist, teacher, mother. I suppose the closest I ever came to calling myself a writer, was when I was a journalist. But I never gave myself that label. It sounded too self-conscious, too full-of-myself. So I wrote and wrote and pretended I was doing something else.
At the end of 2018, for various reasons, I decided to walk away from full-time teaching. I wanted to `write'. And in the first few months of 2019, I did. I self-published a book of poetry (Whispers from Southern Lands) and two study companions (How to study Poetry & How to Study Macbeth). But I still wasn't a `writer'.
The epiphany came in one of the writer's groups I belong to. Essentially it is this: if you want to be a writer, then see yourself as a writer. I took it to heart. Since the start of 2020, I have tried to consciously think of myself as a writer (not that I would say it out loud - but I write it down a lot!) No, I don't make any money as a writer, but one day I might. For now, it is enough to make sense of the world by putting my pen to paper. I might not be brave enough to declare that `I am a writer', but the words tumble out despite my label - and I write.
My first poetry collection as a `writer' is Fieldsong. I have poured my love of the Essex countryside into words and yes, maybe, I am a writer.
....It will rain again.
The soil will soften, let go.
New clay will make way
for tracks and trails
of new-thought paths
and other times.
The field will forget
and the small dreams
of sleeping mice.
From Tracks (Fieldsong ; Mandy Whyman, 2020)