A Writer’s Manifesto

Invited last week to reflect on what it means to me to be a writer, I realized that there is nothing I’d rather be. First, despite having less chronological time to write than when I first published, 62 years ago, I also have a whole new world of technology and broader mastery of form to enjoy. Second, as the nature of the beast has always been learn, learn, learn, I’m anxious to begin another round of repertoire-expanding. Third, despite having Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder, I now have fresh opportunities to improve the way I manage my conditions. Consequently, I intend to keep writing as long as I can.

Looking Back

At 13, I wrote an impassioned letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper in defense of Elvis Presley’s number one hit, “It’s Now or Never.” I thought my father would be proud of my accomplishment when he saw the published letter. Instead, citing negative remarks Presley allegedly made about black people, my father laughed and advised me to hold on to the letter so that I, too, could laugh at it one day.

A girl of a different stripe might have been too humiliated to seek publication again if laughter was to be its reward. But no, I overcame the sting and became known for academic papers, design projects, press releases, short stories, stage plays, sermons, copywriting, editing, and so forth. Indeed, if productive is a definition of success as a writer, then I can truly say I nailed it for a season.

Back to School—for Good

In the 1970s, a college dropout and divorced mother, I envisioned becoming a novelist. Toward that end, I purchased my first Writer’s Market and took a Writer’s Digest fiction-writing correspondence course. Shortly afterwards, I published a filler in a women’s magazine, an achievement which emboldened me to return to college as a creative writing major.

Surprisingly enamored of academic life, I spent most of the next dozen years getting degrees. To support this activity, I taught at universities and directed writing programs. In recent years, my schooling has taken the form of continuing education enrollment, reminding me that publishing or not, I’m still a writer and, as such, should also be a student of writing.

Battling the Brain

I used to have a photograph of myself around age three, all dressed up but frowning as other children in the picture laughed. They weren’t laughing at me, my mother once told me; they just weren’t being unpleasant, as I so frequently seemed to be. Throughout grammar and high school, teachers called me down for disruptive classroom behavior. By college, I exhibited virtually every symptom the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) listed for bipolar disorder.

During my forties, I was diagnosed with and prescribed meds for the clinical depression and bipolar I’d been fighting throughout my life. In the meantime, I’d spent twenty-one years writing my magnum opus, I Heard a Crazy Woman Speak: The Fictional Autobiography of a Woman Who Comes of Age in the Sixties and Falls Apart in the Nineties. Although unpublished, Crazy Woman received generally favorable critiques from editors my agent sent it to. I no longer see a novel there, but I’m all right with that.

Still Writing After all These Years

Past retirement age now, I still want to keep doing the work that has sustained me all my life: writing. So I’ve decided that I owe myself one more shot at it—an “encore career,” as the former American Association of Retired Persons calls it.

One advantage the encore career will have over its predecessor is that after a lifetime of mind-dimming, sleep-inducing psychotropic drugs, I’m coming off meds with my psychiatrist’s help. Behind this plan, I see the ghosts of the frowning three-year-old, the angry thirteen-year-old, the twenty-one-years-in-the-making novelist, all of whom were blocked for one reason or another. Given the time they have left, may they recover and fully embrace whichever form leads to their success as writers.

Categories: Childhood and children, Creativity, Mental health, Writing

2 replies

  1. You are my role model for strength, perseverance, creativity, passion….the list goes on and on. Can’t wait for this story to continue to unfold.

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