‘How did you know you wanted to be a writer?’

‘What would you be if you weren’t a writer?’

‘Why do you write?’

These are the questions writers are asked all the time, and not only when they speak at events or visit schools. My own family and friends ask me these questions. 

Sometimes it helps to ask myself these questions, especially if I am struggling with my writing. It helps to focus on why I do what I do and to remind myself that I am a writer, always have been and always will be, no matter how badly things are going.

Even when the writing does seem to be flowing, I am constantly battling what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls ‘the Censor’ – or what a writer friend calls ‘the Shitty Committee’. In other words, I have an inner editor clamouring away in my brain the whole time, telling me that I am useless.

Most days there is a sneery voice in my head repeating the following commentary on a loop: ‘Call yourself a writer? That last story was a pile of rubbish! You can’t do this. In fact, you SHOULDN’T be doing this. Get a real job!’

Julia Cameron has a lot of good advice on how to combat this. To start with, she encourages any creative person to spend time every day writing ‘Morning Pages’: three pages of free-flow writing about anything at all. I realised when I read this that I have been writing ‘Morning Pages’ almost every day of my life in the form of a diary. I do not censor anything in my diary; I do not read it back that often and I certainly do not correct anything or worry about how it sounds to a reader. It is my space for making mistakes, for sorting my head out, for clearing out the rubbish before the real job of writing begins.

So, to answer the question, ‘How did you know you wanted to be a writer?’ – I simply am and always have been, I just didn’t necessarily know it at the time. I didn’t really know it until I went on an Arvon Foundation course and wrote for a week, immersed myself in it, and felt truly alive and connected to something inside of me for the very first time.

As for, ‘What would you be if you weren’t a writer?’ – I used to be an editor and thought that was what I would always be. It took years and five published books before I stopped saying ‘I am an editor and I also do a bit of writing’, before I was confident enough to say ‘I am a writer.’

It was somewhere along the path between ‘being an editor’ and ‘being a writer’ that I was encouraged to read The Artist’s Way. I put it on my To Do List and forgot about it. Then a friend who was recovering from a dark period in her life told me about the book and was positively evangelical about how it had given her permission to call herself a poet. 

The part that has resonated with me most is the section on the Censor and the realisation that I never had anyone encouraging me to be a writer when I was younger. Cameron talks about creative people being afraid to let themselves loose on the art form they most want to embrace and says that many creative people choose ‘shadow’ careers instead. This is exactly what happened to me: I chose to become a children’s book editor rather than face up to the fact that I had always been a writer. I chose to hide my writing in journals which I never showed another living soul. 

I was lucky: I was forced to stop work when I had my second child and moved away from the UK for a while. My husband was the biggest challenge to the Censor. He told me I could do it and that this was the perfect opportunity to start. I no longer had the excuse of being an editor. I could embrace being a writer. So ‘What would you be if you weren’t a writer?’ – nothing. Nothing at all.

Of course, the Shitty Committee still has its way with me. I have just sent off my latest manuscript to my publisher and have come down from the extremely short-lived high of writing ‘the end’ and pressing ‘send’ to find myself battling the Censor all over again: Will the publisher like the new book? Will they tear it to shreds? Scribble all over it in red pen? Will they tout it around the office, laughing at how rubbish I am? Will this be the end of my career as a writer? Will I EVER WRITE ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN?

Well, I can answer the last question: of course I will. I will do that, even if the answers to all the preceding questions are not in my favour, because when people ask, ‘Why do you write?’ the answer is, ‘Because I have to.’

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