In the days of COVID-19 and adjusting to this new normal that is temporary full-time author life, I find myself thinking a lot about my late grandmother.
I’m not exactly sure of the reasons for this. Maybe it’s because staying at home means I’m surrounded by a number of her paintings that we have on the walls and that my mother brought the last of my grandmother’s surviving plants home from her office, or that her birthday was April 28 (as was my father’s mother’s birthday). But think it might also be related to the images on the news and being spread on social media of care facilities and retirement communities on lockdown.
My grandmother lived with my parents and I while I was growing up. She was transferred to a nursing home after what we suspect was a minor stroke. Her health had been declining before then, but that was the thing that was the beginning of the end, so to speak.
This was the summer before I started my freshman year of college, and she passed towards the end of my sophomore year.
With the global situation as it is, I’ve been trying to sort out how I feel. My version of working from home is essentially writing and editing because my workplace is closed until further notice.
Based on posts in my Twitter feed, it seems a lot of fellow writers have been able to do the same, and I’d also guess there are people out there who are setting out to write their first book because they now have the ability to focus on it.
These are people who might be inclined to call themselves “Aspiring Writers”.
It’s a common enough term, and it’s one often attached to other creators like “Aspiring Musicians” or “Aspiring Artists.”
But one visit to see my grandmother changed my perspective on that term, and it’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
My grandmother had been in the lounge that afternoon. There were a couple of other people there but it was still pretty quiet.
One of the ladies there was getting ready to head back to her room and required some help, so I ended up rolling her wheelchair down the hall (she was recovering from a broken hip). I do not recall her name, but I want to say it was something like Beatrice.
We started talking about my grandmother and general things. She asked what school I went to, and then asked what I was planning to study since I was heading off to college in a matter of weeks.
When I mentioned I was majoring in English and that I wanted to be a writer, the conversation shifted a bit.
She mentioned she also wrote and especially enjoyed writing about horses, mentioning that she would use the nursing home lounge’s computers for research.
We got to talking about general writing stuff, much of which sadly evades my memory now, but there is one piece of advice that stuck with me.
It came after I had said I was an aspiring writer
She looked at me for a moment, and I was starting to think she was about to question it like a lot of high school classmates had. You know, Are you sure? Okay, but what about a paying career?
Much to my surprise, I didn’t get that from her.
She did, however, wonder about my use of the word “aspiring.”
She asked about what I liked to write and if I had anything in the works.
At this point, I only had one project going, but I had been focused on it for a few years by then.
That’s when she said the thing that has stuck with me since: If you’re writing, then you are a writer.
The way she put it, there is no such thing as an “aspiring” writer or people who are “going to be” writers.
If they’re working on a story or a novel, they are a writer. If they have that creative spirit or feel like they’re being called to the art in a way that feels as though it’s your purpose in life, they are a writer.
It doesn’t matter what stage you are at with your story or how many you have written or published. Age, race, gender, sexual orientation, education, experience—nothing of that is the determining factor that decides whether or not you are a writer.
Writers just are.
The takeaway here is that you don’t want to become a writer. You are a writer. And that’s the advice I want to offer writers as we’re all trying to somehow muddle through these trying times.
I’ve been trying to find ways to perk myself up a little bit lately and give myself something new to focus on. I decided to start gardening again. It was something my grandmother and I would do when I was growing up and while I know I do not possess a thumb that is anywhere near as green as hers, I think ordering some seeds from the same catalogue she would use is a good place to start.
Expect a blog post on that sometime in the future.