Last night I was fortunate enough to attend a reading and book signing by author Jodi Picoult, who isn’t just an incredible writer, but also an amazing speaker with an admirable social conscious. As I sat in the audience listening to the Q & A session, watching the way Jodi connected with her fans, I knew it was finally time to say it loud and proud.
For those of you who don’t know, my name is Shannon and I want to be an author. I always have and always will. There was really no stopping it – it started when I was a young child. Somewhere at my parent’s house there’s a trunk full of stories I wrote and illustrated as a kid.
Then something weird happened. Somehow I got the message that you can’t be an author and pay the bills; that only works for a select few. Thinking back, I try to remember who planted this seed of poison – certainly not my parents. They always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be as they took me to the library each week to check out my tower of books. To a certain extent, I believed them. While I didn’t like school, I was good at it and loved to learn, immersing myself in any and every subject I found interesting.
Perhaps that’s why I spent 7 years in college, earning several degrees but no PhD – I had no focus. I wanted – and still want – to learn about everything. I only have this one life and I want to spend it experiencing, learning, doing, living as much as possible.
I came back to writing off and on during my twenties, started a couple of novels, tried to submit some short stories for publication, but could never really find a balance between writing and paying the bills. Finally, though, I’ve found my groove and have become focused on my goal.
I’ve been successful in getting short stories accepted for publication and am working on the rewrite of my first novel, but I didn’t actually feel like a writer until last night. When I would say it out loud, call myself a writer, I felt odd, like a poser. A voice in the back of my head scoffed at me like the mean girl in high school. “As if.” Why the sudden change then? Because of something Jodi Picoult said. She talked about how, as a writer, she gets to play scientist and learn about what interests her. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do my entire life. Suddenly the confusion, the guilt from my indecisiveness that’s kept me feeling so lost and awkward all these years simply melted away.
I was an archaeology major because I loved reading books where I learned about ancient civilizations. My fascination with bones led to a degree in Anthropology. I earned a degree in Crime Scene Technology because I loved reading forensic thrillers and writing mysteries. As I discovered during my time at the Medical Examiner’s Office, though, it’s not always as fun as it sounds. I love the science, but not always the hands on work. When someone asks you what you do and you say you touch dead people, they take a step back, one eyebrow raised, and look like they expect you to bite them. If you say you write mysteries, they take a step forward and want to know more.
I love the opportunity writing presents me with. I can share what I learn with others. I can help raise awareness, shed light on issues that need attention, I can use my craft to make a difference, and hopefully provide a bit of entertainment in the process. If only a handful of people ever read it, it doesn’t matter. I’m still a writer because it is who, not what, I am.
So thank you, Jodi Picoult, for making me feel like a writer. I’ve been waiting for an ‘aha’ moment, something to make me own it, and last night, during your talk, your words made it click. And I’m really sorry for fanning out and making you smile for a picture with me. In my defense, however, it’s not like you’re some Hollywood actor, professional athlete or politician – you’re AUTHOR Jodi Picoult – how could I resist?