Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Am a Writer – a Productivity Pep Talk

I have been getting up early for the past few days of summer vacation to work on my book about my great-grandfather, the real-life music man. It has felt great. When my alarm goes off, I’m often already awake. I lie in bed for a few minutes (OK, sometimes more like ten), thinking about the day ahead and my writing goals. Then I give myself a mini pep talk, I go downstairs and make some coffee, and I open up my laptop.

Now that Louisa’s high school graduation is behind us, I feel like it’s time to dig in and commit to making serious progress on my book. Getting up early and putting in a few hours of work while the house is still quiet, the birds are chirping, and a cool breeze is blowing in from the back porch, is a lovely way to spend the morning.

Carving out time to write and making it a habit is what productive writers do. It’s what I need to do. So, I’m doing it. It seems like a simple thing, but making a commitment and changing a routine is never easy. We’ll see how it goes. For now, it’s working.

The other thing I’ve been doing in the past few days is going through my computer files and reorganizing them. When I started doing research for this book project, I had no idea how much material I would accumulate. It’s never-ending, really. If I didn’t have a the Finder feature on my computer, I’d waste even more time than I already do trying to find a document I know is somewhere in the files. Occasionally, I come across an item I had completely forgotten existed. It’s almost like discovering it all over again, which is fun, but also frustrating. It’s way past time to assemble my materials into a more workable file system, which I know will also help me be more productive. So I am making progress with that, too.

It was in going through some files this morning that I found an essay I wrote two years ago about the time I lost my identity as a writer. I had forgotten all about it. I never did publish it anywhere, so I’d like to publish it here. It seems appropriate.

I Am a Writer
By Joy Riggs

When I was in third grade, I filled wide-lined spiral notebooks with stories about the escapades of a spunky girl named Randi. I had chapters, a table of contents, and even an author’s note, all scrawled in pencil. I wrote to please and entertain myself. I was ambitious, clueless and fearless.

In high school, I composed angsty poems on an electric typewriter. I wrote journal entries detailing struggles with my weight, worries that I’d never find love, and feelings of loneliness amid a circle of friends. I wrote to find out more about myself and the world around me.

When I was in my early 20s, I wrote for a living. I was too busy meeting deadlines and planning my future with my college sweetheart (who became my husband) to think too hard about what it meant to be a writer. I had editors to please and readers to serve. I wrote because it was rewarding, and often exciting, and because it was my job.

And then, at an age when many young career women hit their stride, I pulled back. I got pregnant and had babies. As this new aspect of my identity expanded – I was a mom, times three! – my confidence in my writing ability contracted. Yes, I dabbled in journal writing, in freelance magazine pieces. I even took on a part-time newspaper gig for a while, when my youngest was in diapers. But somewhere in the fog of sleep-deprivation, torn between family responsibilities and career aspirations, I lost my identity as a writer.

When people asked, “What do you do?” I haltingly responded with the only thing that felt true: “I’m an at-home mom.” Even when my kids entered school, and I carved out more time for my writing, I didn’t feel I had the right to call myself a writer. Why were those four words so difficult to say?

An encounter on the sidewalk one day finally knocked some sense into me. “This is Joy; she’s a writer,” an acquaintance had said as she introduced me to her friend. It was a small thing, really, but it made a huge difference in my confidence. If others could see it, why couldn’t I? I am a writer. I am a writer. I practiced saying it in my head until I felt comfortable repeating it aloud.

My kids are all in double-digits now, and I write when I can. Some days it’s only a to-do list. Some days it’s a column, written on deadline. Occasionally, a phrase appears in my brain when I least expect it – like in the minutes before my alarm goes off – and I am off and running with an essay idea that stimulates my pulse, excites my brain and makes me feel alive.

I’m ambitious. I’m trying to be more fearless. I’m still that little girl who puts words on a page because it’s a part of me that will not be quieted. I am a writer.


  1. Thank you, Joy. As someone who is often trying to fill in the blank after "I am a…" I appreciate this piece. :)

  2. Joy, I love that so much. It took me so long to say those words and really believe them, as well. It wasn't until after Stella was born that I understood how important words were to me, when I finally understood that I had to write because I was a writer.

    I'm SO looking forward to hearing gore about your progress on the book this summer! You go!!

  3. Joy, thanks for sharing this! I, too, have suffered/am suffering a crisis of confidence about my writing, among other things. It's comforting to know that someone as accomplished as you has also struggled with confidence, and has found your way back.

  4. T - Thanks for reading and appreciating!

    Thanks, Kate - I will be sure to keep you updated!

    Diana - I'm so glad to know that sharing my experience was helpful for you. We writers are way too hard on ourselves. When I read your comments, my first reaction was - "Wait, I'm not accomplished. An accomplished writer would have a book written already." : ) It's always easier to focus on what I'm not getting done, than to look back and appreciate what I've done to get to where I am right now. So, thanks for your words!