I have always wanted to be a writer, long before I thought about going into science. I have a stack of journals going back to when I was nine-years-old, wire-bound notebooks with frayed covers. They are each carefully titled: My Writing: Volume 4, Written and Illustrated by Alice Sawyer Green. The writing inside is rich with details of a childhood, tedious as they are: school cancelled for snow, play practice, baking cookies, skating in sneakers on our frozen creek, and a record of state license plates spotted on road trips. But it is there, documented. I’ve been doing this for a long time. And yet, I can’t bring myself to say that I’m a writer.
When I was a senior in high school, I started learning the violin in a group class. Those first few scales played on the violin are as awkward as a nine-year-old’s writing. They are hesitant and careful and yet somehow so loud. It’s impossible to be subtle when you’re learning to play a new instrument. You have to screw up repeatedly before the notes become music.
I loved playing the violin, though. I worked hard at it, practicing for at least an hour per day, and not because anyone told me I had to but simply because I wanted to be better. But still, I never would have called myself a violinist. Or a musician. And indeed, with that attitude, I never would be a violinist. In college, I went through phases of playing through the simple tunes I learned in high school, but I never took lessons again. I stopped learning.
Looking back, I was scared of all the loud, off-key screeching that lay between being a beginner and becoming competent in music. And it was impossible for me to not compare myself to the other musicians at my school. It seemed that they had all been playing for at least a decade, and the skill they had acquired through all those years of practice seemed unreachable to me. Now that I’ve been alive for a few of them, I realize that a decade isn’t really that long. Time is ticking away on the next one. In the end, I’m not (yet) a violinist not because I didn’t start at a young enough age, but because I stopped playing the violin.
If I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been writing down my stories since I was a little girl, what is stopping me? Is it the knowledge that any chance of being good at writing will require countless hours and years of work? Is it the certainty that along the way I will produce bad writing? Is it the fear that I might not ever be very good at it?
My two-year-old Cee would never learn to dress herself if she had that kind of attitude. And we’d miss out on all the maddening and enlightening moments in which she insists on trying to put her shirt on upside down or two legs in one pant leg.
So. Deep breath. Here we go. In this decade, I will become a writer. I’ll probably be playing off-key without knowing it, and I might walk out in public with my pants on backwards once or twice. But how else will I learn? Read more