Back when I first played about with words and phrases and pages and poems, I harbored it in secrecy. I wouldn’t dare speak it aloud or be so careless as to leave my journal unprotected. I did this because I knew THEY were out there—ready to pounce on my far-fetched dream and my heretical assumption: that I could be a writer.
THEY were the writing police.
Their mission? To prevent and detect crime of the literary sort, especially from the hoodlums with delusions of writing grandeur. Their informants and spies were everywhere. They were always on the prowl, searching for ordinary folks who were pretending to belong to the uppermost class of citizens called Real Writers.
After years of hiding and dodging, I could no longer deny it: I was a writer. And I was weary of keeping my writing under the bushel. So I changed out the bushel basket for something more like a colander. (The strainer holes let the writing shine out a bit more, and then I could test for the writing police.)
Oddly, the writing police didn’t come to arrest me for class jumping.
Instead, people began to encourage me. So I changed out the colander for a tent; soon after that, I took the tent down too. I finally felt comfortable in my writing skin. You see, I love everything about writing: a simple turn of phrase, the way words sound together, the progression of thought, the unexpected analogy.
I could no longer live underground—I was finally willing to pay the consequences of calling myself a writer. And so I did. People would ask me what I do, and I would say (with much fear and trembling), “I’m a writer.”
Guess what happened? Nothing. No sirens. No alarms. No megaphone orders to cease and desist.
So where were the writing police I was so worried about?
You might assume they were a figment of this writer’s overactive imagination. That’s partly true. But sometimes the imagination can be equally powerful to the concrete, and that’s so in this case. The writing police do exist. They are the source of all my insecurities, doubts, egoism, and timidity. Threats and fear were enough to keep me from growing into the “me” that God was shaping me to be: the writer me.
In The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, author Julia Cameron calls my yielding to the writing police a “credibility attack,”1 one that comes in the form of a hissing serpent that calls your writing self into question.
How do we writers battle back against the hissing serpent and the encroaching writing police?
We must put aside the notion “that being published has to do with being a ‘good’ [writer] while not being published has to do with being ‘amateur.’ We treat the unpublished writer as though he or she suffers an embarrassing case of unrequited love.”2
Writing for the love of it will make the publishing criteria null and void every time, for “there is something patently foolish, it would seem, in doing something just for the love of it.”3
Is it foolish to write for the sake of writing? Perhaps. But for a Real Writer, this is bliss.
1. Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life (New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1998), 113.
2. Julia Cameron, 114.
3. Julia Cameron, 114.