My favorite bookmark read, “Be yourself: An original is better than a copy.” It featured a picture of four sheep, and, like the classic Sesame Street song, one of them was not like the other. I lost and found that bookmark many times. I always imagined myself to be the sheep that was not like the other. And now the bookmark seems lost forever.
Some days, I feel a bit lost, too. After many years of working for others as a writer and editor, I decided to strike out on my own. Not that I haven’t done this before. I’ve freelanced twice in my career. But this time is different.
This time, I don’t want to do what I’ve done for more than 30 years. I want to write shorter pieces and poignant pieces and funny pieces. I want to help people and organizations tell their story. I design and redesign my business card, dressing for the job I want. I write speeches and blog posts and edit memoirs, my card says. After all, I’m a writer.
“I’d like to know what anybody wants to be a writer for anyhow,” Dorothy Parker wrote. “That’s a hot job for a healthy woman.” Writing is a solitary profession, and it’s the one job that everyone thinks they can do. No one says, “Oh, let me rewire your house for you,” if they are not trained as an electrician.
I write because writing is more than what I do to make a living. Being a writer is who I am. Writing is how I make sense of my world. If I’m not writing, who am I? Does the world still make sense?
Well, of course it does. If I stop writing, the world will still spin on its axis. If I return to writing lengthy tomes destined to gather dust on someone’s shelf, rather than pithy blog posts or stirring speeches, I won’t cease to exist. And if that work pays the bills, I will exist in comfort.
Still, I feel like an aspiring actor, bussing tables while I wait for my big break.
I’ve only been taking a stab at reinvention for about six months—too early to tell what color sheep I will be. I have wonderful friends, a supportive family, and I’m working steadily. But, I still want to be that different sheep, that duck that steps out of the row.
Novelist Neil Gaiman wrote, “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” I can’t dance or draw, but I can write, so I will write every day until I discover who I am meant to be. Now if only I could find that bookmark!