I used to be a writer. Back in the days before anyone called me mom or sweetheart or maestra, I used to call myself a writer. I scribbled poems in the sides of my spiral notebook and jotted down dirty limericks on the backs of napkins. When I was supposed to be writing papers on existentialism and morality in 19th century French authors, stories would fill my head and I would work feverishly into the night bringing life to the characters that danced through my mind.
Once I even took a beloved Christmas carol and turned it into a girl empowering break up song about my ex. I detailed several…shortcomings of his in the bedroom. The girls in my house loved it because every one of them at one time or another had had a boyfriend like that boyfriend. Writing like this was a way for me to express my emotions in light of the changes that occurred as I grappled with the looming responsibilities of adulthood.
But then all that changed, and I entered the world of academia. I became a public school teacher and had to crank out standard aligned lesson plans and reflection papers outlining rationale for my classroom pedagogy. When I returned to school for my Master’s degree, my writing became even more analytical and less innovative as I wrote papers entitled, “The Effects of Commercial Literacy Programs on the Language Acquisition of Second Language Learners.” Even now, the title of that paper makes me want to yawn (and I wrote it!), but at the time, I enjoyed the process of writing it and found that I had a talent for academic writing.
Soon I was writing program plans, educational policy and immigrant orientation guides which were being used across the state and the Midwest. I received phone calls and emails from districts hundreds of miles away asking to use and adapt my writing for use with their language programs. It wasn’t too long and I was speaking at conferences and giving workshops based on my expertise with second language learners. I even wrote a book based on my experiences as an ESL teacher called “The ESL Field Guide: Everything I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching.” Writing had now become a way for me to receive academic recognition and professional advancement in my field.
Somewhere in all of this, however, the scope of my job changed. New legislation and more demands on teacher time had me unable to do the activities that I had excelled at for years. Additionally, a more difficult and demanding student population took up all of my time and energy. Quite simply, I was burned out, and I had no way to escape. Over the years of writing academic texts, I had lost that spark of creativity that had driven me as a young woman. No stories came to me anymore late at night. No poems lined the sides of my papers at staff meetings. And inappropriate lyrics set to holy music? Forget about it. I was lost. Writing had disappeared from my life.
Or so I thought.
About a year ago on one of the coldest days of the year, I was home with the kids on a snow day. Deciding that I couldn’t handle watching Frozen yet again that day, I sat down at the computer and started typing. It wasn’t much–just a couple of words that had been floating around in my head for a while, but that was enough to start a new story. By the end of the day, I had written ten pages and I was invested in my characters and their lives. Over the next several months and into the summer I wrote. When the new school year started and my days became even more hectic, I wrote. When my husband had a cancer scare and my preteen needed to start therapy, I wrote. When students became violent and I started dreading going to work, I wrote. And one day not long after that, I finished my first novel, Little White Lies.
My book is no literary masterpiece; I know that. It’s a romance, a light story into which people can escape their daily lives. I don’t know how good it is (my mother-in-law likes it, but I think she might be biased) or even if anyone will buy it, but it is the most important work I have ever written for this reason: when I was adrift and overwhelmed, writing found me and gave me back my voice.
I may still be called honey and mama and teacher, but once again I can call myself writer.