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For years I refused to label myself a “writer.”
But I knew from the time my pen hit the paper in fourth grade as I scribbled my first serious “essay” that I wanted to be a writer of some sort. Mom complained that I went through notebooks too frequently. At first she thought I was writing love notes. To her surprise, I was writing poetry and essays about butterflies, pain and suffering. I interned in a newsroom and my first youth column along with my headshot appeared in my hometown newspaper back in 1995. Since then I have been contributing to newspapers, magazines and media outlets on and off as a correspondent. Most recently I celebrated writing over 250 guest columns for one publication—and yet I still had a hard time introducing myself as a writer.
I found it freeing when one of my idols Tamara Jeffries came to the podium at the 2017 Women AdvaNCe annual summit to accept the inaugural Advancing The Issues Award and confessed to asking the question “Why Me?”. Jefferies, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, came to Bennett College after more than two decades as a writer and editor for national magazines, books and other publications. Most notably, she served as Executive Editor of Essence, the nation’s largest Black women’s magazine, from 2000-2004. She was also Editor-in-Chief of HealthQuest: The Publication of Black Wellness and a Contributing Editor for Health magazine. In 2009, she was awarded a Rosalyn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. In 2012, she was an Association of Health Care Journalists/National Library of Medicine Fellow. She also participated in the Narrative Medicine workshop at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2011. She has contributed to several health-related books, and continues to write articles about health and wellness, personal growth, spirituality, art and culture in publications including Redbook, Parenting, Heart & Soul, Real Health, The International Review of African American Art, The Review of Black Political Economy and others publications.
And even with all of these accolades she momentarily doubted her worthiness for the award. She reminded us that as women, we are less likely to think we deserve jobs, awards or honors. You’ve probably heard the following statistic confirmed by Forbes Magazine that: “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
Hearing Tamara and all that she had accomplished helped me realize why so few of you out there have approached Women AdvaNCe to become a part of the writer’s collective.
It’s the same reason I hid from the title. I will be honest here is a little of what you can expect:
People treat you differently when they discover you are a writer. They have strange thoughts like expecting you to know their favorite author or recite a poem. “You mean you don’t know (insert name)?” And then there is the look of judgment when you misuse grammar. It takes a certain amount of courage to admit to being a writer since it opens you up to grammar scrutiny.
My favorite question is “But are you, like, a REAL writer?” People would be surprised at how many times writers (hobbyists and professionals) are asked that question. That leads me to wonder, is there an abundance of “fake” writers roaming the earth? What constitutes a “real” writer? Admittedly, some are better at expressing themselves in written form than others. I personally believe everyone has a story to tell, and if you have an overwhelming desire to sit down and pen it, then one can call herself a writer.
People will give their opinion about your writing. My favorite moments is when people come up and tell me… “That was your best piece.” Hmmm, so who died and made you an expert on everything I’ve ever written? Now I know my tweet might sound ungrateful to readers. It is an honor to have an audience and truly enjoy when people reach out about a piece that resonated with them. Forgive me. I find myself being protective of the columns I’ve written about things like grief and lost loved ones.
They might not be viewed as the best, but they have brought healing to my soul. I have received some of the most earnest responses from hurting individuals who have shared similar emotions. It is painful to speak openly on the subject of grief, yet I feel the closest to those stories.
My favorite columns aren’t fun to write, and I don’t expect fanfare. My most honest works tend to have a smaller audience. I labor over them more with the understanding they are less likely to get pulled into the system for syndication. It will take some adjustment to having strangers declare which story of mine was “the best.”
You will be glad you wrote for Women AdvaNCe.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. If there is something on your mind, we want to hear from you. Our editorial director Stephanie Carson has a talent for editing without stripping away your voice. She has the experience and the desire to help women tell their stories. She will even go back and forth so you can see and discuss some of the edits made. It’s a great process that most publications or sites don’t offer.
So after years of refusing to label myself a “writer,” I am living my truth and encouraging other women to do the same!