The Accidental Writer

I started keeping a journal when I was a eleven, or maybe thirteen. I don’t exactly recall. I wrote sporadically, mostly the usual growing up angst. Lists of boys I had crushes on. Personal struggles and heartbreaks I find embarrassing, even now, to read.

I thought everyone kept a journal. Where else could you work through growing, in secret and in safety, without judgement?

In school I was a competent writer. But it wasn’t easy and I could never pull off an all-nighter, madly writing an essay hours before it was due. It was hard work to express my thoughts, coherently, on paper. Not second nature.

What I had going for me perhaps was my natural motivation to thoroughly explain my position, to logically categorize and order my thoughts. I studied hard, and was eager to please (and get good grades) and always did my best. My writing, no doubt, lacked the compelling insights of true creative genius, but it was solid.

I found my collegiate writing stride in my last years of university - when I started to write about things that lit my fire - the whys and hows of learning. When a professor finally challenged and required us to read classics. Classics that at first glance had nothing to do with becoming a public school teacher. I found ideas that inspired me, writing about those ideas wasn’t easy but it had meaning, beyond getting a good grade.

University degree in hand, teaching career on hold indefinitely, I wrote about what mattered most to me - my family. Pregnancy journals, post-partum journals (Help me God!) and baby books where I scrupulously recorded my children's first years. Scrapbooks of our life, as a family.

All three children have baby books and scrapbooks. I set high standards for myself and I didn’t want to be one of those moms who remembered everything about her first and precious little about her last.

Recording and remembering mattered to me then, as it matters now.

I started blogging to write about my life as a stay at home mom and homeschooler. A mommy blogger. I had ideas I wanted to communicate. Ideas about mothering, my journey down a more natural, organic path of living, and homeschooling.

I discovered photography and wanted to share the beauty of this work I do; the home I make, the people I nourish and love. I wanted to teach what I knew (soapmaking for example) and encourage other homemakers, moms, and homeschoolers with my words and photography.

I started reading other mommy blogs. Other mommies read mine. We talked (blog comments and e-mails) about the struggles we faced at home, even in the beauty. I met people with similar values and interests. My desires as an extrovert to meet, connect, talk and share, found another outlet outside my immediate community.

And then I realized that writing was something I did every day - on purpose and with intention. That I was cranky without it, that it met a deep need I had to communicate and connect.

So I started calling myself a writer. Because I wrote.

I’m not a writer because I’ve always felt a calling. I have no desires to publish a traditional book. (Ok, not totally true. I think a book with my name on the cover is cool but the actual “behind the scenes” work of writing a full length book? Nope, don’t want to do it.)

No teacher ever told me I had a particular gift for writing. I was however told I have the “gift of gab”.

I’m not an introvert longing to express myself, using the written word to speak my mind.

I’m not a “born” writer, crafting words from the time I was able to hold a crayon.

Publishing a book has never been on my bucket list. I don’t have a bucket list.

I write to communicate, because I have something to say. But I love expressing myself verbally also.

I write to mentally order my life. I write to record. I write to encourage, to speak my mind and share a little love (sometimes these all intersect).

I write because I love it.

I feel insecure sometimes (there it is again, my nemesis - insecurity) when I read the experiences of other writers and bloggers, people who feel they have been called to write. Women knew from the time they were a child that writing was what they were meant to do.

Woman who put aside writing dreams to be a mom, or thought writing wasn’t a “real” option, who found that dream again and are going great guns. More power to them! 

I don’t have an English background and I don’t know how to diagram a sentence. I make grammar errors all the time.

I’ve never felt called to write. But I do feel compelled. If I don’t write, for even a few days, I’m antsy and uptight. Words want out. I want to connect. I want to express. I want to make order.

I’m not sure what kind of writer this makes me. An accidental writer?

Or just a writer.

How did you discover or fall-into your craft?

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  • Robina

    Robina on July 26, 2012, 1:45 p.m.

    I have sort of the opposite story. I was that kid who was writing from the time I could hold a crayon. I wrote my first "novel" at 7! I was your stereotypical High School poet. I went to college, got a degree in English, worked in publishing, went to grad school, got a PhD in English, published articles, wrote a 235 page long book (that will probably never get published because I decided not to stay in academia!). Throughout my twenties and even today, I wrote in a LiveJournal, and built a community there. Periodically I started a blog, but I found myself more comfortable at LJ, and because I was doing more "public" writing academically, I and kept defaulting there for the more personal stuff.

    And now I am starting a career that has NOTHING to do with writing. It scares the bejeezus out of me because writing has been so central to my identity for as long as I can remember. Publishing a book has been the ONLY thing on my bucket list since I was 4. It will probably never happen because, as a midwife, I will be completely overextended all the time. But I started up with my blog again in the hopes that it will fulfill some of those needs. I still write constantly at LJ, but because I feel so at ease there and have known many of my readers /friends there for almost a decade now, I often will just sort of throw out some thoughts or use it as a place to record things about the kids quickly (or ask for advice!). I'm trying to cultivate a more thoughtful writing practice in my blog, although so far it has been difficult because I have so much on my plate as it is.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience!


    • renee

      renee on July 26, 2012, 3:05 p.m.

      Midwifery - one of my other "passions" - natural childbirth and support of birthing women. Midwifery stories are some of my favorite, fiction and non-ficiton. I love the midwife/writer combo. Have you seen this book Robina?  Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart: A Midwife's Saga I highly recommend it.


      • Robina

        Robina on July 26, 2012, 4:49 p.m.

        Yes! If there's anything else I am, it is a voracious reader. If there's a midwifery memoir written, I've probably read it. I wrote a lot about midwifery as a graduate student, too, especially historically so I read many 19th century diaries and such too!


  • Laura Smith

    Laura Smith on July 26, 2012, 2 p.m.

    I think "compelled" and "called" are the same thing, just different expressions. I relate to your analytical look at this topic - my mind works the same way - but I don't think your writing is accidental at all. There is a clear through-line. I personally no longer believe a calling needs to have a huge, aha, clouds-parting moment. You were tuned into it all along. It's always been there. No big event needed! Do you write? Then you are a writer!


    • renee

      renee on July 26, 2012, 2:18 p.m.

      You know, I think you're right about them being the same thing. I guess, maybe what I mean is I didn't grow up wanting to write. I did grow up wanting to be a mother and homemaker (I identified these desires even as a young woman). And before we were even married we made a conscious decision to homeschool. These are all the "main gigs" in my life. Then there's this writing thing that just grew and took over. And now I spend hours each day writing and I'm wonder, "how did this happen?" And I love it!


  • patricia

    patricia on July 26, 2012, 3:21 p.m.

    I think there was a time when writers were a select few. But the world is changing and we are all becoming writers. Really! There's a literacy researcher named Deborah Brandt who has been studying this and she writes, “For perhaps the first time in the history of mass literacy, writing seems to be eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence" and "We are becoming a nation of writers."

    This fascinates me. We are all writing more than we ever have before--yet I think there's still a stigma attached with calling yourself a writer. I know it took me a long time to come out and say I considered myself a writer. It's funny: I think it's easier for people to say that they're a musician or an artist, even if they don't do those things professionally…

    I'm on a quest to help kids and parents become writers--and to claim writing for themselves! So say it loud, Renee: you are a writer!


  • Heather Caliri

    Heather Caliri on July 26, 2012, 8:35 p.m.

    I have been reading Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art" and thinking what it means to be a professional in writing. He talks about the dilettantes' over-identification with their art. The cagey professional keeps a bit of a distance. If there's no distance, if there's no remove, how do we accept criticism, improve, work on our craft with rough diligence? What you're describing is a lifetime honing writing as a tool, rather than an identity. Perhaps not seeing yourself as a writer is a strength.


  • Katy

    Katy on July 26, 2012, 9:24 p.m.

    I was going to reply the same way Laura did. I think to be compelled and called are essentially the same thing, and your writing is clearly not accidental!

    I love Patricia's remarks! Very encouraging! Makes me recall discussions I've seen in the online crafting community about calling oneself an "artist." People are hesitant to call themselves either artists or writers, but if you make art, you are an artist, and if you write, you are a writer. Why you do it and who you do it for are not the defining factors. As you well know, there have been many artists and writers whose gifts were not recognized or appreciated during their lifetimes, but they kept plying their craft anyway.

    (In response to the Brandt quote, I should add that we will not be very good writers if we are not good readers!)

    It is always helpful to think out and flesh through why you do something, and when you share it, others can benefit from it as well. Thank you!


  • Leah

    Leah on July 27, 2012, 1:14 a.m.

    Natalie Goldberg wrote, "The words are not you, they were a great moment going through you."

    Renee, you have the gift to open and allow passage of these moments to the page, and to graciously give of your space, time, and dedication to the process of sharing these gifts through your blog.

    Others may have a gift to create interesting stories, to communicate the humourous idiosyncrasies of life however there are few that have the gift of opening to the moment and share that something that touches us deeper; deeper to that Peace that connects us.

    I encourage your readers (and yourself of course) to neglect those 'insecurities' about your writing. Neglect them of time, space and weight on your mind, and like a poor forgotten plant they will die (faster than you may think) and instead you will be left with fertile soil, a 'mindful compost' so to speak, and that will give greater space to nurture your strengths and gifts of connecting with others and sharing the great moments of life through your words.


    • renee

      renee on July 27, 2012, 10:59 a.m.

      Thank you. I am trying so hard to neglect them. I've visualized boxing them up and shelving them away but I like this plant imagery better. Don't water my insecurities, and they will shrivel up and die. I like that image!


  • Shannon

    Shannon on July 27, 2012, 1:18 a.m.

    I am a reader. I think it started early...i dont remember a time when i didnt have a library card(thanks Mom!) Glad I keep landing here. I suppose I could say I'm a writer too. Haven't developed that kind of courage yet. As always, hopping offline inspired :)


  • Beth Wagenius

    Beth Wagenius on July 27, 2012, 10:56 a.m.

    I am reading a book called "The Soul Tells A Story" by Vanita Hampton Wright. This book has explained so much about creative type people to me. I have literally marked up the whole book taking notes and underlining. She comes at it from a strong writing perspective but essentially she is saying that all forms of art and creativity are an expression of the message we, as creatives, have to share.

    It explained so much to me about myself and why I've always done things the way that I have. You are a very creative person in many areas and I love your writing on this blog. I very much enjoy the personal aspect of it. Art and creativity seem to be part of who you are. From what I can see on this side of the screen!

    The author of the book believes that creatives often have more than one gift and discover this as life progresses. Although, I love to write and essentially always have, I have no formal education and this would give me a great disadvantage in today's very full writing world. I write because I love it and because I simply need to.


    • renee

      renee on July 27, 2012, 11:12 a.m.

      Beth, I think the opposite is true. You don't need formal eduation in writing in the world we live in. Everything you need to learn you can learn by reading other writers and getting a grammar book (or just googling) and partnering with other writers and readers to edit and critique your work (if you want). I feel we live in a world now where you can become self taught in so many things, not brain surgery perhaps, but writing - yes. See Patricia's comment above about how writing is becoming more common as "the literate experience of consequence" (quoting Deborah Brandt). Don't let the lack of a formal education stop you from pursuing writing more publicly, if that is your desire. 


      • Beth Wagenius

        Beth Wagenius on July 27, 2012, 11:52 a.m.

        Thank you for the encouragement and mentioning Patricia's comment. I found her blog! This will be a very helpful resource. Thanks.


  • Catherine

    Catherine on July 27, 2012, 2:22 p.m.

    Renee, I find your blog so interesting. Perhaps it is because so different (and yet in some ways similiar) - but I am posting my note on your blog with a request: Please finish your salad book. I am waiting to buy it. Thank you.


  • Laura

    Laura on July 29, 2012, 11:46 a.m.

    Renee, I love this post. :) I can so relate to your story. I am in the intense stage of mothering - with a five year old, three year old and new baby due in October. My children are intense, and we will be homeschooling (well, technically we are but i favour a relaxed approach ;). I love reading your words and feeling what migh be possible for me in the future. I keep journals but have been pushing writing out when i'm short on time. I think I'm going to have to make the time for my sanity. Thank you for the reminder, and thank you for writing.


    • renee

      renee on July 30, 2012, 11:26 a.m.

      Laura, So nice to hear from you! Have you read my book Nurturing Creativity? You might enjoy it for the stage you are at and finding time to write in your journals.


  • Francesca

    Francesca on July 30, 2012, 8:25 p.m.

    You're "just a writer" - meaning, you don't have to look further or explain further beyond that. You're a writer, no matter where that comes from. Would a man ever justify their passion/calling? (because of where I come from, I'm very sensitive to this, though I totally realize it doesn't apply to you at all). You're a writer, and do a good job at that.


  • Erin

    Erin on Aug. 2, 2012, 6:56 a.m.

    Well, I'm right with you there 'accidentally'. As someone who hated English in high school, never set foot in an English class in college, and is now finishing up the rough draft of her second book to hand in to the publisher in a month.

    Writing is one of humanity's major forms of communication - I think it's only natural to end up coming to claim it when you have something you want to communicate.


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