Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor at Writer’s Digest, which is always a helpful resource, and has a short essay to share for any writer who could use a little nudge of encouragement during these weird times.
Yes, Virginia, You Are a Writer
In a time and year that has been hard on so many in a variety of ways, more than a few writers have found their creativity dry up. Some have even asked if they are or should be writers moving forward. This open letter is addressed to all such writers.
Robert Lee Brewer
Dec 18, 2020
Whether we’re measuring things by lives lost, economic hardships, or wholesale changes to actions and behaviors that were normal and commonplace this same time last year, 2020 has been (and continues to be) a hard year. And that’s true for writers as much as anyone else.
I’ve seen you and heard you on social media saying things like, “I can’t find the motivation to write. I don’t know what to write. That is, I don’t know what to write that matters. There’s so much, too much, and I can’t focus. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to write again. I’m not sure if I consider myself a writer anymore.”
I know; I’ve been you myself. I’ve felt all the same feelings, including that existential writing question, “Am I still a writer?” Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about that response from editor Francis Pharcellus Church to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”
And so with both thoughts rumbling around in my head, I want to answer the former question for you, but also for me. Because I know there have been times I’ve needed this answer during “dry times” in my life and that I’ll likely need this reminder again in the future:
Yes, Virginia, You Are a Writer
Virginia, one thing I know as an absolute truth is that there will always be people on this planet quick to point out what you are not and what you cannot do. With the precision of a Google search, they will pull up all your flaws and let you know why you don’t measure up. They’ll pin lists of reasons why someone else is better or more qualified, and I urge you with all my spirit to avoid enabling these thoughts, whether they come from someone else or—worse—yourself.
Yes, Virginia, you are a writer. In fact, as my wife would say, we are all born writers. Our minds process a variety of senses each and every day, whether it’s the smell of honeysuckle, the taste of peppermint, or the sound of water splashing against rocks. And our hearts beat with love, fear, pain, regret, anticipation, and other feelings—some of them without words to express. And so, we feel doubt, because the language escapes us.
Still, if we didn’t have a word for human, we’d still be human. Or to quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and Shakespeare himself was faced with the need to create many words. But you don’t have to create a language—not even one new word—to be a writer. Rather, it’s something innate, something that beats within your heart (you know if you’ve felt it), and though it may have grown dormant—like a volcano, it can erupt again.
If you breathe air, love life, think thoughts, feel emotions, then you’re a writer. Do not let the lack of words now discourage you from being who you are meant to be. Perhaps you’re still processing the world, but if you open yourself, the words will come. Believe it like you believe this planet will continue spinning from one day to the next. The words will come!
They will slip into your mind while you sleep. They will touch the very tip of your tongue while you talk. They will—eventually—work their way through your pen or your keyboard, and you will once again be face to face with them, and they will be yours. The words will come! Even this moment, they are making their way to you.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of Writer’s Digest, which includes editing Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market, and Guide to Literary Agents. He’s the author of Solving the World’s Problems, Smash Poetry Journal, and The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms: 100+ Poetic Form Definitions and Examples for Poets. He loves blogging on a variety of writing and publishing topics, but he’s most active with Poetic Asides and writes a column under the same name for Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.