Take a look at that title again.
Does it feel unfinished? Unresolved?
For many years, this internal dialogue knocked around my head: “Do I write because I’m a writer, or does the act of writing make a writer?”
In other words, does what I do (i.e. write) make me who I am (i.e. a writer)? Or is who I am (i.e. a writer) driving what I do (i.e. write)?
This classic “doing vs. being” debate fascinates me.
If you read the blog I wrote between 2009 and 2012 (called Keitharsis), my allegiance to the “doing” camp was obvious. My thinking was essentially this: If you want to call yourself a writer, you must write.
End of story.
But, for me, it was far from the end of any story.
I started writing songs and stories in elementary school. My first poem was published in our local newspaper around that time too.
It seems I wrote because I was a writer. And the act of writing over many years reinforced this.
But that wasn’t exactly it either.
Imagine a Venn Diagram, where the ends of two circles overlap. If we call one circle “being” and the other “doing,” what can we call the crossover area?
Do you see what’s been bothering me? Something else is happening in addition to “being” and “doing”. Something that has eluded me for a long time.
Until this past week.
I was up way past my bedtime, a few nights ago, and decided to re-watch a documentary on Harper Lee.
Lee grew up in a small Alabama town with Truman Capote and, like him, eventually made her way to New York City. While there, she worked as an airline ticket agent and wrote fiction on the side.
It was during this time, she befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Brown and his wife, Joy. One Christmas, the Brown’s gave Lee a gift of one-year’s wages with a note saying, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”
Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
Something Joy Brown said in the documentary hit like lightning:
“Essentially she (Lee) was a writer. She was not going to spend her life taking airline reservations or waitressing or what one does while one becomes something else.”
If you don’t mind, let’s let that quote hang unresolved, like today’s essay title. At least for a few more sentences.
Nothing we do is a path. Our lives consist of cycles. Seasons. Circles.
A week is a cycle of days. A year—a cycle of months. A blog is a cycle of posts.
And writing is a cycle too. I receive a prompt. It connects with something else. This connection spurs inspiration. I write. I edit. I re-write. I share with a few trusted colleagues. I hone. And then I share the final piece publicly or submit it to an editor.
Then I start over.
I’ve read a couple of libraries worth of books, blogs and periodicals that offer advice for writers. Most approach writing as if it were factory work. And the writer as if she were an hourly worker.
I think of the creative as a garden, and we, the artists, as gardeners.
Our job is to cultivate the ground. Plant the seeds. Pull weeds. Keep the critters out. Add water. And let God or Mother Nature do their thing.
And then, we begin again as the seasons cycle around.
It seems we are always becoming.
We are always in a space between “being” and “doing”—a space of tension.
So it seems fruitless to focus on either “being” or “doing”. I should stay focused on the art of becoming.
You should too.
Don’t think about when you will “be” [insert artistic title here].
And don’t obsess about what all you need to do to be that thing.
You are always becoming what you already are.
Like fruits in a garden.
It takes hard work and sacrifice, but the results taste so sweet.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on April 21, 2013.