I’ve been reading On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts by Charity Craig and Ann Kroeker. I like this book for its simplicity and straightforwardness. I like the wisdom Ann and Charity bring to the subject of writing – wisdom born of experience. And I like how each chapter is organized: Stories about writing, and exploration (live, respond, writing prompt, a bonus activity, and discussion questions). And you can ask yourself the discussion questions, or you can ask them in a group.
Here’s one of the discussion questions from chapter 1, “Identify:”
When did you first call yourself a writer?
I thought I knew. Turns out I didn’t.
It might have been when I was 10, when my father brought home from his printing business a bound volume of blank pages. It had a pale green paper cover. Today we would call it a journal. I even know what I wrote in it – a mystery story for kids, about kids, involving secret passages and tunnels (and likely borrowed wholesale from The Hardy Boys).
But then I realized something. What prompted my father to make that book? It didn’t just materialize in his head as an idea. Something told him this would be something I would enjoy. So, clearly, there was some pre-existing event or condition before that bound volume was placed in my hands.
It was likely linked to my family reputation as “the reader.” I was an early reader. When I was six, I pedaled my bike to the local dime store and bought Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion for 59 cents. That was the first book I bought on my own.
Sometime between the ages of six and ten, something happened that suggested to my parents that I might be writer.
However, my father wanted me to be a doctor. That had been his dream, which he was forced to abandon when he graduated from high school in 1933, the pit of the Great Depression. College had been out. Instead, he went to work as a roughneck in the East Texas oil fields.
I tried pre-med for one year at college. Too much chemistry for someone who was more interested in English literature. I even considered (for a very short time) the ministry. And it was my father who advised against a business degree and instead still do something that would help me earn a living – journalism. (My father had worked for a time in the circulation department of the Shreveport Journal, and after serving in World War II for a trade publisher in New Orleans, which is where he met my mother.)
Was there a moment when I first thought of myself as a writer? Probably, but it’s buried in the mists and fog.
But I can pinpoint the moment when I first said (or admitted) I was a poet. We were visiting New Orleans in 2010, and I was paying for several poetry books I was purchasing at the Faulkner House Bookstore in Pirate’s Alley. The owner looked over the books, and looked at me and said, “Are you a poet?” I funbled with an answer, something like “I write it a bit.” So he repeated his question. “Are you a poet?”
And I said yes.
So if you’d like to know what On Being a Writer can do, just look over what I just wrote. I moved from a description of the book to a question to the search for an answer that took me back to the 1930s and 1940s – before I was born – and then forward. Ann and Charity’s book is simple, but deceptively so. It will make you think, and think hard.
Yes, I am a poet. And yes, I am a writer.
Photograph: Faulkner House Bookstore in New Orleans. The man on the left was the one who asked me, "Are you a poet?"