Friday, May 2, 2014

A Symbolic Step

Yesterday I sent off five poems and a personal essay to a writing competition.

It is the first professional competition that I have entered, and I see it as a major step for me. I've been writing, in some form or another, all of my life, but I have never really shared it publicly or touted myself as a Writer with a capital W. I've also been leading a weekly Writing Group for over a year, spending boundless energy encouraging others to release their creative juices and produce pieces of powerful prose. And though I told them, over and over, "I have written prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, for years," I never said the words "I am a writer."

It's ironic how life has a way of nudging us along.

Several months ago, while looking for steady employment, I was offered a gig doing some freelance writing for a local online publisher. The writing started as a handful of news articles each week for a Health IT magazine, and now has grown to include Business IT, Retail, Grocery and C-Stores, and Restaurant/Hospitality News, writing dozens of pieces a week. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me, since my field of training is History. I do, however, know how to research and write, so the only real challenge was mastering the content and sources for this new writing, and I was golden.

As I have increased my writing assignments for them, though, it has made me crave my personal writing time. The professional writing, with its strict guidelines and prescripted subject matter, has made me long for the deepest creative expression I can unleash. I have found myself stealing moments away to do my own writing - something that simply did not happen on a regular basis when I had ample time to do so.

And I have, in these last few weeks, finally come home to my new identity as Professional Writer. The occupation on my Google+ page boasts "freelance writer, editor, and educator." As I embrace this new definition of myself, I also am moving to open myself up to more public spaces.

And thus, the entries in the Writing Competition. I don't really expect to win any prizes. It's a competition that is sure to draw thousands of entries. But in the act of hitting the "submit now" button on the entry form, I symbolized the transition in my own head. I am an author. I am actually a published author, of academic works and some scattered poetry. And now, I have authored scores of news articles online. My name has been scattered to the winds of the internet, and as I googled myself out of boredom the other day, I was fascinated to see just how far my name has been shared via the miracle of the world wide web.

So, as I told the students in my weekly Writing Group, the point of submitting entries to the writing competition is not to win, but rather to actualize the identification process and validate our identities as authors. If, come October, I can not announce that I have won the competition, I will be able to say, with confidence, that I have won something far greater: my own self-identification and personal growth as a writer.

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