Last winter, I was in between jobs so I had quite a bit of time on my hands. I decided to put that time to creative use by making a point to write every morning. For the next month, I went to a local coffee shop and wrote. I wasn’t sure what would come of it other than it was something I felt like I needed to do.
At the time, I had just finished up a full-season apprenticeship on a farm in a lovely rural community in Kentucky and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself next. Writing felt like the natural way for me to “figure that out” and process my experiences of living and working (WWOOF-ing) on a farm for six months.
Somehow I had never really thought about my chapbook getting published.
As I began going through my writings, I decided that I wanted to do more than write it, stuff it in a notebook, and forget about it, which is what I had always done in the past. This time I wanted to share my writing. I wanted to really let it go. I also wanted to take myself seriously as a writer. Not too long before this, I was talking to an artist friend, who asked me if I was an artist, to which I replied, “I write and I like to sketch, but I don’t consider myself an artist.” Without hesitation, she replied, “I bet your work would blossom if you changed that response to, ‘Yes, I am an artist.’”
Spoiler alert: She was right. I’ve talked to other artists/writers/friends who also have trouble self-identifying as artists. I know for me I have always asked myself, “At what point do I call myself a writer or artist?” My friend was right: I did myself a great disservice by not identifying myself as a writer for so long.
As I began researching poetry contests, I was pleasantly surprised and perhaps a little overwhelmed at how many there are out there. But I found one that had a call for open submissions, committed myself to it, and made that my purpose for writing every day.
This was in November about a year after my father had passed away. When I say I was in an in between space, this was part of that too. I did not have much of a relationship with my father, so after he passed, writing was my way of processing, understanding, and grieving his death. Writing has always been my way of processing, understanding, and dealing with whatever is going on. This time was different though. I knew I had something to say and I wanted to share it.
After about a month of writing, revising, and rewriting, it was time to send the chapbook off. I felt relieved. Even if I didn’t win the contest, my work was out there. I had worked on it devotionally, and shared it with friends along the way.
After months of not hearing anything back, and giving up on checking the website daily for updates, I accepted that I didn’t win the contest and that was okay. I felt better for having gone through the process of writing it. Sometime in March, long after forgetting about the contest, I receive an email from Finishing Line Press: CHAPBOOK ACCEPTANCE. They wanted to publish my work. Excitement. Shock. Panic. Overwhelming happiness. Somehow I had never really thought about my chapbook getting published. I guess before I was just thinking maybe I’ll win some money from this little contest. Immediately, I felt the need to go back over every word with a fine-toothed comb. Is this what I want to say and how I want to say it?
The following months revealed a whole world of unfamiliar territory from contracts to manuscripts, learning how to market my book, coming up with a cover art design, and keeping up with multiple deadlines. It’s been a hectic, yet surprising and fulfilling journey, even if overwhelming at times. I have connected with more writers and reconnected with distant friends. I have felt supported and loved along the way, and for that I am so grateful.
Do I consider myself a writer yet? I can say I am growing more comfortable with that title. And I encourage anyone who writes to start calling themselves a writer, to share your writing with friends and at open mics, and to submit to contests. You never know what may come of it. We can learn a lot from each other by listening to one another and sharing our stories.