Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Beverly Army Williams. It’s part of my monthly series Stories of Transformation.
A piece of art, a collaboration between visual artist Linda Jean Fisher and me, is held in the Pfizer Corporation’s collection. In the late 1990s, I handed a stack of poems to Linda Jean. She created graphite drawings and used the erase function of an electric typewriter to type my poems. This lifted the graphite from the drawings, and the words stood out from the drawings in white. Her purpose was two-fold: she wanted to acquaint herself with my work, and she wanted to encourage me to call myself a writer.
I was a writer, but I was wary of claiming that title.
Having completed, at long last, my bachelor’s degree, I had my first non-clerical job: I was the assistant to my college’s director of public relations. I spent my days writing press releases, articles for internal newsletters, copy for advertorials.
After ten years as a bank teller, telemarketer, and accounts receivable clerk, I should have been thrilled by this job. I still hated the question “what do you do” when I met new people; my job lacked pizzazz. I told myself this corporate writing did not count. Nor did my stories or poems count; they weren’t published after all.
A Story of Self-Resistance and Doubt
My story is not unusual. It’s a story of resistance. It’s a story of self-doubt, which manifested in unsavory ways:
- Busying myself with activities that added little to my life
- Reticence to share my work
- Uncertainty about my writing’s worth
When she erased my words from her drawings, Linda Jean did something powerful: she allowed me to see my words, to value them, to claim them. Using my poetry in her artwork elevated the words for me and enabled me to take them as seriously as she had done.
The Transformation: I Declare Myself a Writer
The transformation took several years of deliberate work, play, and focus. Here’s what I did:
- Instead of squirming when asked what I did, I taught myself to say, “I am a writer who supplements her income working in public relations.”
- I posted a little sign on my work computer that said “Paid Practice.” Any writing, after all, improved all of my writing.
- I sought feedback for my poems and learned to revise them with sound and imagery in mind.
- I read (and completed) Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and through morning pages, I journaled my way into a novel. I believed whole-heartedly that I was the only person who could tell that story.
- I enrolled in writing workshops and eventually in the University of New Mexico’s MFA program.
Self-doubt enters my mind still. Instead of wallowing in it as I once did, though, I recognize it and write my way through it. I summon my courage and allow the bad writing to happen; I know at some point a word or sentence or paragraph will sparkle and matter.
Just before I moved from New York to New Mexico, a colleague—the graphic artist for our publications—gave me a beautiful bookmark. On the back she wrote “If you wish to be a writer, write.” –Epictetus.
And so I write and declare myself a writer.
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