Writing My Own Story

I’ve written stories and poems and essays since I first learned to write in first grade. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve written all your life, too. I wrote throughout elementary school and throughout my teens. I slowed a little but kept writing throughout my twenties. I wrote sporadically in my thirties and early forties. But then, I all but stopped writing. I didn’t pick it up again for about 15 years. I didn’t start writing in earnest again until I was in my late fifties.

Part of the delay was that I was busy—I was working a day job, raising a family, and watching television. I had a lot to do. Seriously, though, the times are changing—I see it in my sons and in my son-in-law and in their friends. But when I was in relationships, I was expected to work a full-time job and to also be the sole person taking care of the household.

But the bigger piece of it was that, instead of writing, I was doing what others expected of me. Or what I thought others expected of me. I’m not sure I gave people enough credit. Although I’d received praise and encouragement for my writing, I definitely saw it as a hobby, and I assumed others did, too. I thought it was too late for me to be a writer. Or that, if I ever wanted to be a writer, I’d have to accomplish this, that, and the other first—I had to meet all these expections I had of myself and get to a certain place in my life, be in a position to write. So, I put my time, money, and energy into day-to-day living and supporting the successes of my significant others.

In the process, I neglected my own dreams. I settled into a plan B life without ever giving my Plan A a real chance.

There are so many things that can keep us from going after the lives we were meant to live. At turns, I’ve been paralyzed by the past and overwhelmed by the present. I’ve struggled with loss and with change. I’ve told myself I’m not good enough, or I’m not worth it, or it’s too late. I’ve felt it self-indulgent. But by seeing examples of others living their lives, and by taking chances and investing in living my own, I began to realize that what George Eliot said is true: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) wrote novels under the pen name George Eliot.

Mary Ann Evans was a woman writing in the late 19th century, without the benefit of an education (because she was a girl), at a time when it wasn’t entirely acceptable for a woman to write, under a masculine pen name—George Eliot—to hide her feminine identity. Why did Eliot have the occasion to remark that, “It is never too late to be what you might have been”? Because she didn’t publish her first novel until the age of 40. That’s a late start for a novelist even by today’s standards, but in 1859, life expectancy was only 39.4 years. She’d pushed it to the brink—it was conceivably too late. Like me, Eliot had put off her dream of becoming a novelist. Instead, she worked as the assistant editor of a political journal and contributed essays to it. But at the age of 37, she decided to become a novelist and wrote a manifesto about women writing fiction for the journal she was editing. She called the essay “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Reading it, you can practically see the wheels turning in her head—she is deciding what kinds of novels she will write by considering the kinds of novels she will not write. She is making a declaration. She is voicing her dreams out loud. Eliot lived to be 61 years old and published seven novels, including the classic Middlemarch, as well as several short story collections, several translations, numerous essays, and many poems.

Today, life expectancy is 78.9 years. I have no excuses. It’s been a little over five years since I gave myself permission to go after my dreams, to invest in my future, and to rewrite my own life story. For me, my dream is to write and publish literary fiction. I realized that dream last summer, after years of effort, when my short story “The Jetty” was published in Kelp Journal. I work diligently at my dreams (nearly) every day now, and I know I will eventually publish novels, too.

One of my goals in writing these posts is to connect with others who have similar interests and who are at a similar place in their lives. I look forward to sharing my journey with you, and I want to hear about your journey. Along the way, I hope we can offer one another a little inspiration and encouragement.