Who is a Writer?

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A long time ago, when I was in kindergarten, my teacher called my mother in for a conference to express her concern about my future.

“I asked your daughter, What do you want to be when you grow up?” my teacher told my mother, “And your daughter answered: I have a pencil that’s writing stories in my guts!

My mother, a former dancer turned ballet mistress, was worried enough to talk this over with my pediatrician, who reassured her by confirming that I have a wild imagination that needs an outlet.

Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of standing up on a wooden crate in front of my kindergarten classmates and their parents to recite a poem I had written.

I’ve always loved a good story and writing comes naturally to me, though not effortlessly. However, writing has not always been at the center of my life. There is an inherent danger in being born with any gift or ability; it is so easy to take it for granted!

Truth be told, I didn’t consider myself a real writer for a long time, despite the fact that I made a living as an advertising copywriter and creative director for over twenty years.

“What took you so long?” Frances Foster, my editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux, asked.

I didn’t have an answer to this question and it has been gnawing at me ever since, because so much time has been lost! The easy answer is, of course, LIFE got in the way: emigrating from a Communist country to Israel and then coming to America in the span of two years, learning English as a third language, culture shock, an early marriage and the birth of a first child, a difficult divorce, single-motherhood, remarriage, the birth of another child, the need to make money, a career in advertising that demanded long hours, shopping, cooking, walking the dog, driving the kids to doctors appointments and sporting events, making time for family, friends, holidays, vacations, taking care of parents and sick in-laws, having no physical space of my own to write. Being born a woman, and having to multi-task before the term was ever invented! The list goes on and on. TIME, and SPACE, and MONEY, or the lack of any one of these, or a combination thereof — all got in the way.

Interestingly enough, it was never the fear of the blank page, but rather the fear of the poorly written page. I lacked the self-confidence in my God-given ability to recognize it, acknowledge it, and honor it by making it my life’s work. That’s what got in the way. Notice, I didn’t say avocation or lack of inspiration. And I’m not saying vocation or even career. I’m saying, my life’s work. It took me half a lifetime to discover my life’s work. And it will undoubtedly take the other half of my life to get to be really good at it. I have high standards and I’m my toughest critic.

I am not alone. I shudder at the thought of all the wasted talent, all the great unwritten stories waiting to be told, when I ask myself, how many wonderful writers are dry, or blocked, or perhaps depressed, right now? How many have conquered their fear, written something that shimmers right off the page, even something that got published and became a best-seller, only to have their fear resurface because of one lousy review, a negative comment by a literary agent, or even a friend’s innocent remark that is perceived as criticism? This can be very debilitating — if you let it.

So how does a writer keep writing? When asked about the endless intrusions into his writing life, Isaac Bashevis Singer once answered: “I am interviewed and otherwise interrupted. But somehow I manage to keep on writing… I think that being disturbed is part of life, and sometimes it’s useful to be disturbed because while you are busy with something else, your perspective changes or the horizon widens. All I can say about myself is that I have never written in peace…”

In order to write from the heart, your soul must be as sensitive as a fine tuning fork that resonates to life’s stories. But in order to survive as a writer, one must grow a skin that’s as thick as an elephant’s — and keep writing, day in and day out.

If you are a writer, you know who you are. Keep writing!

All my best,

Haya

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